Exodus 1:8 - 2:10; Psalm 124; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20
THE REV. PORTIA SWEET
Paul wrote:"I ask, then, has God rejected his people?
I imagine that in the past few weeks many people throughout the world, people of many faiths, have asked this question. Much darkness has seemingly prevailed in all parts of this globe on which we live. Surely the Yazidis on Mt. Sinjar have asked this question. They who practice an ancient faith that includes belief in the one God have been forced like animals onto a mountain by a violent army of people professing a different and radical faith in that same god. The Yazidis have watched their friends and neighbors suffer from hunger, thirst, murder and other inhumane atrocities as they waited and hoped for rescuers. And even those rescued from the mountaintop continue to endure scarcity, deprivation, and a rational fear of further enemy attack.
Has God rejected his people?
I imagine also that the non-radical Muslims in Iraq and in Gaza and in Syria must also have asked, "Has God rejected his people?"Many times in recent weeks as both ISIS and the Israelis, professing to be God's people, have brought destruction and deprivation into their lives.
Some Israelis surely must have asked if God had, after all, rejected his chosen people as their lives were intermittently interrupted by enemy rockets.
Looking then at Western Africa, I imagine that the friends, family and survivors of the thousands infected with the Ebola virus may be asking, "Has God rejected his people?" Even missionaries carrying their faith have been struck by this disease
And closer to home, perhaps, could it be that individuals who, although they have believed in God and perhaps been active in their faith, are so tormented that they contemplate and even carry out suicides; could they in their downward spirals be asking some version of, "Has God rejected his people?"
There are no simple solutions to the many and complex geo-
political problems in our world today. Positive thinking alone does not cure mental illness. However, let me be very clear in saying I firmly believe that God has NOT rejected his people.
Many of God's people have rejected their God. As Paul writes, God's gifts and calling are irrevocable. It is humans who allow dark and ungodly things to emerge from our hearts, direct our acts, and spew vile rivers of gossip, mistrust, hate, and murder both figuratively and literally throughout society. Not all of God's people have obeyed, as Paul reminds the Romans.
As I think of the many conflicts taking place simultaneously in the world on this very day, and how so many conflicting factions are claiming to be acting in the name of God, I wonder if those claims, hollow as they are, aren't like children shouting, "Mom loves me best." Of course these acts are not God's doing. They are, instead, examples of what Jesus is talking about in today's Gospel lesson - the evil intentions and atrocities that proceed from the heart and come out of the mouth to defile a person.
God has not rejected his people.
Remember the story of a few weeks ago of the mustard seed, and how one tiny seed can, in time, produce a huge bush that spreads over a relatively large space. The mustard bush/tree was considered a nuisance in a well-tended garden. Just as Jesus said a tiny bit of faith could grow huge like the mustard plant, so it is with the proliferation of that which defiles. And I think of the terrible threat of a global pandemic of Ebola or any other lethal disease; for that, too, can be an evil force that spreads and defiles as it goes.
To indulge in a bit of what iffiness; what if people throughout the world who have resources to spend on war machinery and energy to expend on the pursuit of power and greed had and would now, instead, aim all that on improving the lives of people in West Africa and other third world areas? Just what if that kind of sharing of abundance had and would relieve enough poverty to provide education, health, and life's necessities? And what if in that relief more people stayed well and fewer people felt hopeless and joined bands of terroristic armies?
Many will say that is an impossible dream. There are too many differences among people, too many different languages, cultures, standards of decency; too many historical divisions, us and them. Anyone who has traveled more than a couple hundred miles from their birthplace has discovered that human beings everywhere are more alike than different from each other. After all, we are all of the same species and lo and behold, we all share some modicum of DNA. We are, as we state in our affirmation of faith, created by the One God, who created all things.
Paul's ministry was about inclusion, celebration of diversity. He is writing to the Romans who are quarreling about who can be considered Christ followers and many think gentiles, that is non-Jews, should not be allowed in. That's you and me. What if that idea had prevailed? Paul writes in this same chapter, If the root is holy, then the branches are holy. He talks about grafting branches so that Christ might be woven in in the broken places - those broken place I spoke of a moment ago.
Jesus saw his ministry as one meant for the Jews, and that the Jews were God's chosen people - that is what the Hebrew Scriptures said. However, as Jesus walked the land and traveled into areas where so-called foreigners lived, his Father revealed a greater mission, one that included people in all the corners of the earth. In another story he encounters and shows love for a Samaritan woman. Today, with a little urging from the woman
herself, he responds in love to heal the daughter of the Canaanite woman. You see, it is, after all, Christ Jesus who can heal the broken places. He is IN the brokenness of all our lives. Are we asking for his healing?
God did not reject those people.
Jesus teaches and demonstrates time and again that faith sets us free from our vileness, and faith means obedience to God's irrevocable call to love him, ourselves and one another. There is the call, and there is the commission. And neither is meant for just a few. It is the gift and the yoke of every baptized Christian to respond to and carry out. Not to do so is to reject God.
Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is currently touring the countries of the Anglican Communion. In a recent sermon delivered in Australia, he said offered a vision of the Church overcoming division and "relishing the adventure of being the people of God." “Positive holiness and liberation means positive action that sets us free from the sins of defensive inward looking, competitive argument,” he said.“Freedom means openness and confession, of our faults, especially the abuse of power that lies behind the abuse of children and vulnerable adults. It means freedom from demanding authority and liberty to wash feet........He added: “It is liberty to be diverse and yet full of love for one another It is liberty to act in weakness and know the strength of Jesus Christ.”
In an earlier address at a February Faith in Conflict Conference, on the theme of reconciliation, the archbishop described it as “recognition of diversity and a transformation of destructive conflict to creativity. It holds the tensions and challenges of difference and confronts us with them, forcing us to a new way of life that accepts the power and depth and radicality of the work of the Holy Spirit in our conversions”.
With all my heart I believe that God has not rejected his people. He sent his only Son to redeem us from evil and sin. Jesus is our Advocate, so how can we be rejected? Those who are suffering so much as to ask the question need us. Reconciliation begins with you and me. We must first confess our faults and seek forgiveness in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must then be always mindful of what flows from our hearts into this world, for the love of Christ and the peace from God dwells in us and can come to another only through us. We must stay rooted in our faith by study and worship and daily prayer. Those prayers ought to include those we have never met, those different from us, those whose path to the divine curves in different directions from ours.
Listen with the ear of your heart to what God calls you to do, what God calls you to say, how God calls you to act. Do not reject your God through disobedience. God has not and will not reject you.