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  • Pastor David’s Sermon – 2014/08/31

    Scriptures:
    Romans 12:9-21
    Matthew 16:21-28
    Exodus 3:1-15

    Sermon:

    Why do we ask our heroes to be better than we are? Why do we have a compulsive need for those who would help us to be, not only good at helping, but in fact morally flawless? In other words: why do we ask human beings to be God?

    I’ve been wondering about these things as I look at one of the most depressing stories of recent times. I look today at the case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. Here’s a young black man, who was unarmed, and was shot to death by a police officer. While it’s tragic whenever a life is lost, this event is an opportunity. It represents a chance to talk about race in America; it represents a chance to talk about the role of guns in our society; it represents a chance to talk about acceptable force from police officers; it represents a chance to talk about the risks of being a police officer. It represents a lot of things, things which need to be talked about and worked out. But at the end of the day, what happens?

    Well, instead of talking about issues, real issues, we end up talking about personalities. It becomes a battle of “he-said, he-said” … well, not quite that. More “he-said, he’s-dead.” We start talking about how it’s a tragedy because the boy was about to start college; or we start talking about how the officer was “justified” because the kid was being rude to the cops; or we talk about the cops starting it, or how no matter how rude he was, it doesn’t merit shooting.

    The point is, pretty quickly, the whole thing turns to character assassination. It becomes, not about the issues, but about whether or not the people involved were perfect enough. Whether or not they deserve what happens to them. And the fact of the matter is, in the end, that doesn’t matter – innocent people don’t deserve to get shot just because they’re rude; death by shooting is a tragedy whether or not the kid is going to college; police have a hard job with hard choices and their lives are in danger. These things are all true. But we cannot make the discussion culturally about whether or not this young man was perfect or whether or not the police officer in the case was perfect. They are not God.

    That’s the thing I keep coming back to when I think of this story in light of our Scripture passage today. First of all, God doesn’t expect perfection out of us. Let’s look at Moses. Now, his story begins like it’s going to be about someone fairly perfect. He’s saved (somewhat miraculously) from a genocide at birth; he’s taken from a slave people and raised by his mother, but then ascends to the palace of Pharaoh himself. He has the experience of the poverty of a slave, yet is rewarded with the height of privilege.

    Then what happens? Well, when he gets older, he sees an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew. Now, Moses knows that he himself is a Hebrew, and he can’t stand to see one who is so like him being mistreated. So he looks left and then right (to make sure no one is watching), and then he murders the guard.

    There’s no explanation given about whether or not the guard was a good guy – seeing as he was known to beat Hebrews, he probably wasn’t that good of a guy. And Moses certainly wasn’t – he’s a murderer, for goodness sake. Regardless of how justified he thought it was, it wasn’t. He then goes and does something innocent people don’t do – he buries the body in the sand, so that no one will find it.

    Well, the next day, he sees two Hebrews fighting, and he tries to break it up. And they say, “Oh yeah? What are you going to do if we don’t? Are you going to kill us like you killed that guard?” So, before Pharaoh can find out about the murder he’s committed, Moses flees Egypt. He’s gone from slave to prince to fugitive murderer in record time. His flight take him to Midian, a few hundred miles east of Egypt, on the eastern bank of the Sinai peninsula, in modern-day Saudi Arabia. He works for a man, marries his boss’s daughter Zipporah, and starts out on the life of a shepherd. His life is calm, and peaceful, and happy.

    But, as I’m sure we all know, that’s not how Moses’ story ends. Moses is out wandering with his father-in-law’s flock, as we read today. And while he’s up on a mountain, he sees a bush burning, but not being consumed. So Moses shields his face; he does not want to look upon the face of God. And then God starts speaking to him.

    God tells Moses that the beating, the hard labor, and the mistreatment of the Hebrew people have been seen; the cries of the people have been heard; their suffering is known. And now they will be delivered to a land of milk and honey – a promised land for the people Israel. And then God lays down the hammer – Moses is told to go to Pharaoh himself, and ask for the people to be set free.

    Now, let’s imagine you’re Moses; you’ve just finally settled down. You’re finally safe. And now God is telling you to go right back into the lion’s den to face Pharaoh, who probably wants to put you on trial for murder. Well, you can imagine that that suggestion would sound unappealing. So Moses says, “Yeah, but who am I to lead the people? Who am I to meet with Pharaoh?”

    And God replies, “Don’t worry about who you are; I will be with you.”

    So Moses says the logical thing: “Oh yeah? Well who are you?”

    For a guy who was too humble to look at a bush, Moses sure has gotten chatty; for a guy who’s a murderer having a conversation with God, Moses sure is cocky. But let’s remember, he really doesn’t want to go back to the place where he’s wanted for murder. So he challenges God; he asks God’s name. He’s looking for any way he can to get out of a situation that involves him returning to the scene of his crime. So the excuses pile on, one after another.

    I know I’ve talked about this before in other sermons, but in the ancient world, names meant everything. They told who you were. I know we talked about this when I preached on Jacob being renamed as “Israel.” It came up in last week’s sermon, in which I mentioned Simon being renamed as “Peter.” We think this is old, but we still do it all the time today: it’s why we talk about “custodians” instead of “janitors;” “administrative assistants” instead of “secretaries;” “flight attendants” instead of “stewardesses.” The names we give to things matter, because they affect how we think about the thing itself. In this way, the ancient world seems to have figured something out that we’ve forgotten.

    Anyway, because names are so important, God’s answer is important. And what does God say to Moses? “I AM WHO I AM.” Or perhaps better, “I AM THAT WHICH I AM.” That’s it. Then God says, “Tell them I AM sent you.”

    So why “I AM?” Well, many commentators have pointed out a lot of things about it. For example, Hebrew verbs in this form are not marked for tense, so it could mean “I AM WHO I AM,” or “I AM WHO I WAS,” or “I AM WHO I WILL BE” or “I WAS WHO I AM” or “I WAS WHO I WAS” or “I WAS WHO I WILL BE” or “I WILL BE WHO I WAS” or “I WILL BE WHO I AM” or “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.” It means any and all of them, which is a tremendous statement of God’s faithfulness – God was, is, and will always be, God. But it also means something a little more.

    It also means that God is God; and only God is God. “I AM WHO I AM” also means “NO ONE ELSE IS WHO I AM.” Our expectations of other people to be perfect are unreasonable and unfair, because they can’t be God. And again, that’s a very frustrating thing about the situation in Ferguson to me. Everyone wants to lift up their hero by running down the reputation of the “other” person; but that’s just stupid. Of course those people are flawed. They are human, and thus are necessarily flawed. But that doesn’t matter to the wider narrative.

    You hear a lot of people clamoring for forgiveness in the Ferguson case, as well. People asking the family of Michael Brown to forgive the police officer. That would be great. But you know what else would be great? An admission of guilt from the police officer, instead of stubbornly claiming to be right in spite of shooting an unarmed kid, would be nice.

    Moses is much the same. Part of the fear he has is that he has no intention of asking Pharaoh for forgiveness. So he keeps stubbornly arguing with God, even after what we see in the passage. Now, I’m sure you all remember how it all works out. Eventually, God convinces Moses of what he must do, and Moses eventually does it. He leads the people out of Egypt. He is undoubtedly, unquestionably, a hero. He also gets God really mad at him. He’s still a murderer. He’s still a cocky, angry fella who flies off the handle at the slightest provocation, who uses his wife to get his own way, who manipulates his brother into doing a lot of his work for him… but he’s still a hero. He was still brave; he was still the right leader for the people. But, like many of the Old Testament patriarchs we’ve looked at this summer, Moses was not perfect. He’s a three-dimensional human being, and human beings are, by nature, not perfect.

    And that is why we as Christians are so fortunate to not be left to figures like Moses alone. If that were who we had to live up to… well, we’re not all going to be political leaders like Moses, but if someone said to me, “try to be at least as good as a murderer,” I feel I could pretty confidently check off that box. But we don’t look to the people of this world – not even a hero like Moses. Instead, we have Jesus Christ as inspiration – the one who suffered for us, even though he was guiltless; the one who died in agony, even though he was God; the one who overcame death itself, to show us the future Resurrection God promises to us all.

    We have been given, in the form of Jesus Christ, a glimpse of the great I AM on earth. We are given someone to show us how to live; someone who pushes us forward along a better, brighter path. We have been given someone who is worthy of praise.

    So let’s stop expecting people to be anything more than people. When issues come, let’s talk about issues, not just be out to assassinate the characters of people who represent a side with which we may disagree. And most importantly of all, let’s remember to whom our ultimate devotion belongs – the one who is greater than all our squabbles, and deeper than our understanding. Let us reserve our praise for I AM. Amen.

  • Pastor David’s Sermon – 2014/08/31

    Scriptures:
    Romans 12:9-21
    Matthew 16:21-28
    Exodus 3:1-15

    Sermon:

    Why do we ask our heroes to be better than we are? Why do we have a compulsive need for those who would help us to be, not only good at helping, but in fact morally flawless? In other words: why do we ask human beings to be God?

    I’ve been wondering about these things as I look at one of the most depressing stories of recent times. I look today at the case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. Here’s a young black man, who was unarmed, and was shot to death by a police officer. While it’s tragic whenever a life is lost, this event is an opportunity. It represents a chance to talk about race in America; it represents a chance to talk about the role of guns in our society; it represents a chance to talk about acceptable force from police officers; it represents a chance to talk about the risks of being a police officer. It represents a lot of things, things which need to be talked about and worked out. But at the end of the day, what happens?

    Well, instead of talking about issues, real issues, we end up talking about personalities. It becomes a battle of “he-said, he-said” … well, not quite that. More “he-said, he’s-dead.” We start talking about how it’s a tragedy because the boy was about to start college; or we start talking about how the officer was “justified” because the kid was being rude to the cops; or we talk about the cops starting it, or how no matter how rude he was, it doesn’t merit shooting.

    The point is, pretty quickly, the whole thing turns to character assassination. It becomes, not about the issues, but about whether or not the people involved were perfect enough. Whether or not they deserve what happens to them. And the fact of the matter is, in the end, that doesn’t matter – innocent people don’t deserve to get shot just because they’re rude; death by shooting is a tragedy whether or not the kid is going to college; police have a hard job with hard choices and their lives are in danger. These things are all true. But we cannot make the discussion culturally about whether or not this young man was perfect or whether or not the police officer in the case was perfect. They are not God.

    That’s the thing I keep coming back to when I think of this story in light of our Scripture passage today. First of all, God doesn’t expect perfection out of us. Let’s look at Moses. Now, his story begins like it’s going to be about someone fairly perfect. He’s saved (somewhat miraculously) from a genocide at birth; he’s taken from a slave people and raised by his mother, but then ascends to the palace of Pharaoh himself. He has the experience of the poverty of a slave, yet is rewarded with the height of privilege.

    Then what happens? Well, when he gets older, he sees an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew. Now, Moses knows that he himself is a Hebrew, and he can’t stand to see one who is so like him being mistreated. So he looks left and then right (to make sure no one is watching), and then he murders the guard.

    There’s no explanation given about whether or not the guard was a good guy – seeing as he was known to beat Hebrews, he probably wasn’t that good of a guy. And Moses certainly wasn’t – he’s a murderer, for goodness sake. Regardless of how justified he thought it was, it wasn’t. He then goes and does something innocent people don’t do – he buries the body in the sand, so that no one will find it.

    Well, the next day, he sees two Hebrews fighting, and he tries to break it up. And they say, “Oh yeah? What are you going to do if we don’t? Are you going to kill us like you killed that guard?” So, before Pharaoh can find out about the murder he’s committed, Moses flees Egypt. He’s gone from slave to prince to fugitive murderer in record time. His flight take him to Midian, a few hundred miles east of Egypt, on the eastern bank of the Sinai peninsula, in modern-day Saudi Arabia. He works for a man, marries his boss’s daughter Zipporah, and starts out on the life of a shepherd. His life is calm, and peaceful, and happy.

    But, as I’m sure we all know, that’s not how Moses’ story ends. Moses is out wandering with his father-in-law’s flock, as we read today. And while he’s up on a mountain, he sees a bush burning, but not being consumed. So Moses shields his face; he does not want to look upon the face of God. And then God starts speaking to him.

    God tells Moses that the beating, the hard labor, and the mistreatment of the Hebrew people have been seen; the cries of the people have been heard; their suffering is known. And now they will be delivered to a land of milk and honey – a promised land for the people Israel. And then God lays down the hammer – Moses is told to go to Pharaoh himself, and ask for the people to be set free.

    Now, let’s imagine you’re Moses; you’ve just finally settled down. You’re finally safe. And now God is telling you to go right back into the lion’s den to face Pharaoh, who probably wants to put you on trial for murder. Well, you can imagine that that suggestion would sound unappealing. So Moses says, “Yeah, but who am I to lead the people? Who am I to meet with Pharaoh?”

    And God replies, “Don’t worry about who you are; I will be with you.”

    So Moses says the logical thing: “Oh yeah? Well who are you?”

    For a guy who was too humble to look at a bush, Moses sure has gotten chatty; for a guy who’s a murderer having a conversation with God, Moses sure is cocky. But let’s remember, he really doesn’t want to go back to the place where he’s wanted for murder. So he challenges God; he asks God’s name. He’s looking for any way he can to get out of a situation that involves him returning to the scene of his crime. So the excuses pile on, one after another.

    I know I’ve talked about this before in other sermons, but in the ancient world, names meant everything. They told who you were. I know we talked about this when I preached on Jacob being renamed as “Israel.” It came up in last week’s sermon, in which I mentioned Simon being renamed as “Peter.” We think this is old, but we still do it all the time today: it’s why we talk about “custodians” instead of “janitors;” “administrative assistants” instead of “secretaries;” “flight attendants” instead of “stewardesses.” The names we give to things matter, because they affect how we think about the thing itself. In this way, the ancient world seems to have figured something out that we’ve forgotten.

    Anyway, because names are so important, God’s answer is important. And what does God say to Moses? “I AM WHO I AM.” Or perhaps better, “I AM THAT WHICH I AM.” That’s it. Then God says, “Tell them I AM sent you.”

    So why “I AM?” Well, many commentators have pointed out a lot of things about it. For example, Hebrew verbs in this form are not marked for tense, so it could mean “I AM WHO I AM,” or “I AM WHO I WAS,” or “I AM WHO I WILL BE” or “I WAS WHO I AM” or “I WAS WHO I WAS” or “I WAS WHO I WILL BE” or “I WILL BE WHO I WAS” or “I WILL BE WHO I AM” or “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.” It means any and all of them, which is a tremendous statement of God’s faithfulness – God was, is, and will always be, God. But it also means something a little more.

    It also means that God is God; and only God is God. “I AM WHO I AM” also means “NO ONE ELSE IS WHO I AM.” Our expectations of other people to be perfect are unreasonable and unfair, because they can’t be God. And again, that’s a very frustrating thing about the situation in Ferguson to me. Everyone wants to lift up their hero by running down the reputation of the “other” person; but that’s just stupid. Of course those people are flawed. They are human, and thus are necessarily flawed. But that doesn’t matter to the wider narrative.

    You hear a lot of people clamoring for forgiveness in the Ferguson case, as well. People asking the family of Michael Brown to forgive the police officer. That would be great. But you know what else would be great? An admission of guilt from the police officer, instead of stubbornly claiming to be right in spite of shooting an unarmed kid, would be nice.

    Moses is much the same. Part of the fear he has is that he has no intention of asking Pharaoh for forgiveness. So he keeps stubbornly arguing with God, even after what we see in the passage. Now, I’m sure you all remember how it all works out. Eventually, God convinces Moses of what he must do, and Moses eventually does it. He leads the people out of Egypt. He is undoubtedly, unquestionably, a hero. He also gets God really mad at him. He’s still a murderer. He’s still a cocky, angry fella who flies off the handle at the slightest provocation, who uses his wife to get his own way, who manipulates his brother into doing a lot of his work for him… but he’s still a hero. He was still brave; he was still the right leader for the people. But, like many of the Old Testament patriarchs we’ve looked at this summer, Moses was not perfect. He’s a three-dimensional human being, and human beings are, by nature, not perfect.

    And that is why we as Christians are so fortunate to not be left to figures like Moses alone. If that were who we had to live up to… well, we’re not all going to be political leaders like Moses, but if someone said to me, “try to be at least as good as a murderer,” I feel I could pretty confidently check off that box. But we don’t look to the people of this world – not even a hero like Moses. Instead, we have Jesus Christ as inspiration – the one who suffered for us, even though he was guiltless; the one who died in agony, even though he was God; the one who overcame death itself, to show us the future Resurrection God promises to us all.

    We have been given, in the form of Jesus Christ, a glimpse of the great I AM on earth. We are given someone to show us how to live; someone who pushes us forward along a better, brighter path. We have been given someone who is worthy of praise.

    So let’s stop expecting people to be anything more than people. When issues come, let’s talk about issues, not just be out to assassinate the characters of people who represent a side with which we may disagree. And most importantly of all, let’s remember to whom our ultimate devotion belongs – the one who is greater than all our squabbles, and deeper than our understanding. Let us reserve our praise for I AM. Amen.

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    Sunday Church Service: 9:30 am
    Adult Sunday School: 10:30am
    Wednesday Youth Service: 6:30 pm

    102 East 1st Street
    Marion, SD 57043
    Phone: (605) 648-3876
    Email: emmanuelpc@goldenwest.net
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