Proper 18 (23) 7 September 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Proper 18A/Ordinary 23A/Pentecost +17 Sep 7, 2008 Textweek

Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 149; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Today’s Old Testament reading narrates the institution of the Feast of the Passover, the Passover meal, the meal that was that later celebrated as the Last Supper and for us continues to be celebrated Sunday by Sunday in the feast of Holy Communion. It is therefore an important story; it’s one again that is seen as foundational and that we bring into the present - we bring this story from the pages of scripture into the present and into our lives. As we contemplate the narrative in Exodus, we might appreciate therefore, that this is the story of movement in our spiritual journey. This is a story of movement in the true journey of life; it’s a story of creation and of re-creation and it’s the story of our movement toward oneness in faith. It narrates the very making of, and it acknowledges, our community identity - the sense that we have, and the identifying that we make as part of a community. And the story begins with a shared meal, just as we will share a meal here today. The feast of life, the feast of freedom is a call into community and into communion.

As we read through the narrative it tells us that all, the whole congregation of Israel, participated; not only did they participate, all were also ready – ready to move away from being at home and to move into the unknown of faith, to move into another world. Exodus is a call into freedom and it’s a divine freedom that only a few have glimpsed. It calls us to look beyond the deluded freedom that we all believe we have already achieved, for that deluded freedom is the freedom of the Egyptians. We’ve just experienced an expression of Egyptian freedom –we’ve had an election. In a free country, we exercised our freedom to choose, and I wonder though, if it was freedom that most people experienced yesterday? Confined by the numbers one to six or one to twenty nine, choosing between one who didn’t deserve to win and one who did deserve to lose - it’s a deluded freedom that we pretend we enjoy. In the theological context, the same occurs with the notion of free will. Our understanding of free will suffers from the same delusion: it’s freedom that is subject to the confines of nature and subject to the confines of the culture; it’s a freedom that is so readily confined by information, misinformation and spin. We can think and argue that we are free, that we’re a free people, that we’re free thinkers in a free country, and for those who are satisfied with that as the experience of freedom, then Exodus has nothing to say; it only offers a historically contextualised story about the people of Israel. But the Exodus story does speak much deeper of a journey, a journey of freedom that is a journey into wholeness. A freedom from self-possession, a freedom from self-sustainability, a freedom from self-sufficiency, a freedom that takes us away from ‘I’ towards ‘I am’.

The communal meal of the Passover had all involved, all were ready to move, their loins were girded, ready to participate together in the creation of a new tomorrow. Yesterday ’s election fools us into choosing a name, a face, a colour, a party that will do the creation of a new tomorrow for us. Somehow inside, we know that’s not going to happen. Why do we know that? We know that because we know deep inside that we each have a part to play in the unfolding of tomorrow; no one does it for us; there isn’t a ‘them’ to look after it and we just follow along. Each of us must gird our loins ready to participate in tomorrow, and today’s gospel is quite empowering in that regard. In the first part, regardless of good or bad shepherding practice, we discover that a shepherd can leave the flock and search for the one sheep. Initially one might think that puts the flock at risk, but in fact the reason the shepherd can leave the flock is that the flock, in being together, is of itself a shepherding force and a shepherding act. In community and in communion, we undertake and we participate in the divine activity; together as a flock we also make real the force of shepherding.

Later in the gospel, in verse 18, we find that the divine commission that was previously given to Peter is here extended to all, and we commented on this a week or two ago when we did have the commissioning of Peter, when Peter’s given the keys to the kingdom of heaven: ‘You are the rock on which I will build the church’. The orthodox tradition has been shaped by that commissioning and so has shaped our church, giving an authority to the priest via the lineage with Peter, a handing on of the divine commission, the divine authority. In light of today’s gospel reading, it would be better understood as the priest receiving an authority from the communion, who together are in receipt of the divine commission. If we can understand and reorganise the model that way round, we end up with a completely different shape and orientation of who we are as church.

The day after an election is a wonderful way to underline the reflections in today’s readings. We might elect a government, we might choose one from six or one from twenty-nine; what we hear today is that we too are elected, divinely chosen. When God votes, God votes for you, God votes for me and God votes for us. Enjoy your new term of government.

The Lord be with you.

Peter Humphris