Scripture Readings: Leviticus 19:1–2, 15–18 | Psalm 1 | 1 Thessalonians 2:1–8 | Matthew 22:34–46
“You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
Sounds simple enough, right?
Like a pretty logical basis for society. Not to mention a pretty grounded religious way of life. You know, just treat each other well. Be kind. Play nice. If this is all that’s asked of us, we could handle it, right?
Now I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but our neighbours South of the boarder, the United States of America, are about to hold an election. For what seems like forever, we have been hearing all about how much is at stake in their political competition, and just how divided their country is today. Torn between powerful factions locked in bitter rivalry, each vying for power by pitting their people against the ‘other side’. Wild claims and accusations are being bandied about, making it harder and harder for the people to know what is really going on in their own communities… eroding their ability to trust in those around them. Aggression, intimidation, violence, and hate… all aimed at each other… at their fellow Americans. This is not their whole story, of course. Not everyone there is caught up in this wave of division, but it sure seems many are finding it hard these days to ‘be kind’ and ‘play nice’.
Of course, we have plenty of problems a lot closer to home too; examples of where ‘loving our neighbours’ is brutal on this side of the boarder. Take a minute to think about some of the issues in our communities that could easily make us turn on each other… to turn our backs on each other. What about the intimidation and destruction happening in Nova Scotia, as Indigenous fishermen face violent anger from those upset by their treaty rights? What about the political and cultural tensions in our own Province? What about the clashes that split up Churches, or workplaces, or homes?
No matter who we are, or what community we belong to, loving our neighbours is hard. It can be really, really hard! We may try our best to be nice, at least most of the time… but sharing our life with other people, with real, flesh and blood neighbours, is truly challenging. Good for us, a gift to us, but challenging nonetheless.
This has been true since the beginning. All throughout our human story, we people have consistently struggled to love our neighbours well. We can see this, even in Jesus’ day. In our reading from Matthew this morning we jump right into a controversy: into a community deeply divided by bitter rivalries. Our Gospel reading itself mentions two of the factions that were themselves vying for influence and power at that time in Jerusalem: the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. These two factions of Judaism did not see eye to eye. Though both claimed to be faithful to the Law God had given through Moses, they had very different visions of what God wanted of them.
The Pharisees were very strict about obeying the Law, and also the religious traditions handed down by the elders, often going beyond what the Law itself required, striving hard to keep themselves as pure as possible. They followed both the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, as well as the rest of what we call the Old Testament. They believed in angels, spirits, and the resurrection of the righteous, and were fairly popular among the common people.
The Sadducees, on the other hand, were more in favour with the ruling elites of the day. They did not believe in the spiritual realm, or in any form of resurrection. They focused mostly on the first five books of the Bible, and seemed to have had a less strict approach to following the Law.
Both of these two groups were competing for the hearts of their neighbours… for the influence and power that comes with being seen as the spiritual authority. Like many rival parties in our own time and day, both the Pharisees and Sadducees wanted to be in control. In control of their community’s vision, and hopes, and future. And so it’s no surprise that they both saw Jesus of Nazareth as a threat. Despite their own differences, they saw Jesus and His project as a serious problem that needed to be stopped.
Our reading today, from the Gospel of Matthew is taken from the end of Chapter 22. But to understand what’s going on in this exchange, we should go back a bit to the beginning of Chapter 21… to the moment Jesus rides into Jerusalem, and upsets everything.
First, He rides into the city surrounded by a massive crowd who were waving palms and calling Him the ‘Son of David’… a title for the Messiah, God’s chosen royal rescuer. Next, He rides right to the Temple, to the most sacred place on earth, and starts cleaning house, and calling out the corruption that He sees. Matthew 21:13 “He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.”” Jesus was messing around with both the political and spiritual status quo… in many ways He comes to Jerusalem to pick a fight.
And so, all sorts of factions start trying to stop Him. To question His right to say and do all these divisive things. And the rest of Matthew 21 and 22 moves through this building conflict, as again and again, Jesus is challenged, and yet comes out on top. Every group that was vying for influence in Jerusalem, the Chief priests and Elders, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and Herodians, all try to undermine Jesus, to cut Him down to size. But Jesus keeps on tripping them up, and calls out their hypocrisy. Publicly exposing the fact that despite their pious appearances, they were play-acting with God and His people… they were not faithfully following the ways of the LORD.
Then in today’s reading, which comes in the middle of this extended confrontation, Jesus responds to a final question, meant to test and trip Him up: When asked what is the single greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus responds with two: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Love the LORD, love your neighbour. Simple enough, right?. Only…
One question we might be tempted to ask is: How was Jesus loving His neighbours in Jerusalem? Knowing full well how disruptive His words and actions would be, Jesus repeatedly, and publicly, called out, not just the policies of these leaders, but their character as well. What about this extended conflict seemed all that kind or nice? If Jesus thinks loving our neighbours is so important, why would He be so harsh? What is going on here? What is Jesus doing?
As strange as it sounds, I think He is showing us what loving our neighbours really looks like. But to explain why, let’s turn back to our reading from Leviticus, a book meant to help Israel live as God’s own holy people. Located right after Exodus in the story of the Bible, the book of Leviticus, John Sailhamer maintains, “intends to show how Israel was to fulfill its covenant responsibility to be ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’” set apart to reflect God’s character and goodness out into the world. They were to have their whole lives shaped after and transformed by God’s own life; they were to be holy, for the LORD their God is holy.
Just from our passage this morning, we are given a glimpse of how God called His people to live: upholding justice, regardless of someone’s status or wealth; not being slanderous, but instead speaking the truth; not profiting from someone’s bloodshed, or filling your heart with hate… but being willing to correct and reprove others when necessary. Never seeking vengeance, or bearing a grudge, but instead loving your neighbour as yourself.
For God, loving our neighbour is not simply being kind or playing nice. It always entails protecting the vulnerable, defending truth, and what is right, not giving in to our destructive impulses when we are hurt… not dehumanizing our neighbours, but rather, doing our best to protect them. Sometimes this means saying ‘no’. Sometimes love leads to conflict, or challenging the status quo, not simply to cause division, but to set things right again.
In calling out the hypocrisy of Jerusalem’s divisive leaders, Jesus was embodying the holy love of God: As the Messiah, God’s Chosen One, sent to rescue His people, Jesus was refusing to ignore the deadly games they were playing (not only with their own lives, but with their neighbours’ lives as well), and He was calling them to turn around and go another way. To follow Him, and find in Him the holy love of God: to learn from Him how to love the LORD, and love their neighbours.
As we know, most of these leaders did not turn from their destructive path. They rejected Jesus, plotted and schemed to have Him crucified. And as we know, this too is how Jesus offers them God’s love: dying for them, and for us all, as the ultimate act of love… laying down His own sinless life to forgive and rescue sinners, and rising again to share with us God’s holy love forever.
As we seek to follow Jesus in the year 2020, we too are called to love our neighbours, with God’s own holy love. But in order to love like God does, we need our eyes to be fixed on Jesus: to trust in Him, and receive from Him God’s gift of holy love poured out for us all on the cross, where our hypocrisy and sin is exposed, and where we’re graciously forgiven, and invited to be God’s holy people, reflecting His goodness out into our world: Standing up for the vulnerable, speaking and acting truthfully, not giving in to hated and fear, but striving for the good of all.
May we not settle for simply being kind, and playing nice. With the Spirit’s help, let us share God’s life-giving, holy love with our neighbours. Living each day, as those shaped by the Good News of Jesus Christ. Amen.
 Herodians were Jews that were politically allied with the Roman appointed ruler or Judea, Herod Antipas. The Herodians were not on friendly terms with the Pharisees in particular, but in Matt. 22:15-16 we see them cooperating to try and trap Jesus.
 John Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 323.
This week we are reminded of God's commandment to "love your neighbour as yourself". To explore a bit more of the biblical understanding of love, here is another great video from the Bible Project.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Exodus 33:12–23 | Psalm 99 | 1 Thessalonians 1:1–10 | Matthew 22:15–22
Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.”
Today we wrap up our exploration of the book of Exodus. Over the last several weeks, the lectionary readings have led us through some of the highlights of this important arc in the much larger story of God. In this book, we have been invited to see a new vision of Yahweh, the Living God: not only as the Almighty Creator, but as the Merciful Rescuer… coming to set Israel free from slavery and cruel oppression. And not only that, but also to guide them safely through the desert and into the Promised Land… proving Himself again and again, to be their Faithful Provider. And over the last two weeks we heard how God brings them to Mt. Sinai, and invites Israel into a sacred relationship… a covenant… to be His chosen partners in His work to rescue the world.
But last week we heard that at the very moment this sacred partnership was to begin, the people of Israel break their promise, and go back on their vows to the LORD. They form for themselves out of gold an idol, an image of a calf… and they bow down to it in worship, turning their backs on the glory of God.
At this crucial moment, God listens to the prayers of mercy from Moses, and so He does not give up on Israel, which would have destroyed them. So Moses goes down to the people, destroys the calf, and stops their false worship, even going so far as to slay those who refused to repent and turn back to the LORD. Then Moses goes up the mountain again to plead for mercy for the people. To ask the LORD to rescue their shattered relationship.
The Old Testament scholar, John Sailhamer sums up the situation well: “Israel’s relationship with God had been fundamentally affected by their ‘great sin’ of worshipping the golden calf. All was not the same. The narrative shows that there was now a growing distance between God and Israel that had not been there before.” In Exodus 33:2-3, just before our reading today, we can hear how God intends to respond to His people’s rebellion: “I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
Thanks to the prayers of Moses, Israel would not be totally abandoned by God. The LORD would fulfill His promises and be completely faithful, graciously blessing this stiff-necked people in ways they simply did not deserve. God would make sure Israel would finally be brought to the Promised Land. But this in itself was not what the LORD had always wanted for them… that was only a glimpse, a taste of His deepest desires for them.
Way back in Exodus chapter 6, while they were still oppressed in Egypt, the LORD had shared with Moses what this whole rescue mission was about: Exodus 6:5-8, “I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. [That is, God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob] Say therefore to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’
“I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God”. God wants more than to simply bless Israel… God wants to belong to them… He wants them to be His people… to be truly known by them. To be their Merciful Rescuer, to be their Faithful Provider. God wanted to share His divine life with this people forever.
But after the Golden Calf, it is clear that Israel has other plans. They want to serve less demanding lords; gods of their own making, ones that they could use to help them get the things they wanted. That is what idolatry is after all: refusing to acknowledge and serve the Living God, and instead to try and manipulate divine power to grab hold of something else. To use the divine for some other purpose.
It can be easy for us to fall into this temptation as well… to seek what God can give us, instead of seeking God Himself. To pursue all of the spiritual, psychological, and social blessings that come with our religion… but never to search for the face of the LORD.
Yes, we may not make a golden calf for ourselves… but are there ways we too distort our relationship with God? Using Him to try to get what we want, even unconsciously?
For example: Is our ultimate goal simply to get through the wilderness and into the Promised Land? For many years, the Gospel has almost been reduced to sacred fire insurance. Is our commitment to God simply about getting to heaven one day? Doing whatever it takes to avoid punishment or hell?
Or is our goal to feel better? Do we use God just to help us face our struggles? To find peace, joy, forgiveness, purpose, and hope for ourselves? Are we serving God simply for the emotional benefits?
Or is our goal to find community: to feel like we belong? To hang out with likeminded people, or to avoid loneliness?
Are all of these desires and more at work within us? If I am being completely honest, they are all at work in me.
And what’s more, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of these things! They are all good aspects of God’s blessings that are intended for His people… they’re all part of His plan for them, and for the world. Just like there was nothing wrong with the Israelites having gold, but it was wrong for them to take that gold and make it into a god… to serve it and centre their life around it… in the same way there are so many gifts God offers to those who follow Him that in themselves are good, but that will distort our truest purpose if we build our lives around them.
Imagine marrying someone, not because you want to share your life with them… to grow in intimacy, understanding, and mutual love… but just for their house? Or because they say nice things to you. Or because you like to spend time with their social circle? All these things can be a part of sharing your life with someone, but what matters most is the bond, the connection, the love that is shared.
Like Israel, God does not simply want to bless us, but to belong to us, and for us to belong to Him. He wants to be our God, and for us all to truly be His people… to share in His divine life. To know Him intimately, and to respond to Him in love.
Back on Mt. Sinai, God tells Moses He will not abandon Israel in the wilderness to die. He will faithfully fulfill His promises to them and to their ancestors… but His presence will not be going with them. They will receive much more then they deserved, but they will have missed the greatest gift of all: an ongoing relationship with the Living God… to know the LORD their Saviour with intimacy and love… to truly belong to God, and belong with God forever.
Standing alone in faith before the LORD, Moses intercedes again… he pleads for God not simply to bless the people… or to be faithful to His promises… but to go with them… to stay with them… to always be with them. To not give up on being Israel’s God, and for them to be His people. And amazingly God says yes again! God will go with His people. Though their relationship would be rocky, as the people kept falling back into fear and sin, God would share His divine life with them. Moses’ prayer was answered.
Then something incredible takes place: Moses goes a huge step further. “Let me see your glory!” He prays. “Let me see your glory.” Moses, who alone in biblical story so far, had experienced an amazingly intimate knowledge of the Living God, wants even more. Moses wants as much of the LORD Himself as humanly possible… he’s not seeking what God could give to him… He’s not using God to get something else. No, Moses wants to know the LORD, to follow in God’s ways… to share as fully as possible in God’s holy life. Here we see Moses embodying what the third century Church Father, St. Gregory of Nyssa, called having the true vision of God: “never to be satisfied in the desire to see him.”
And again, God answers Moses’ prayer: revealing Himself to him… giving to Moses a powerful glimpse of His goodness and glory. This was a deeply personal blessing and gift, a life-changing encounter, not simply for his own benefit, but so that all of Israel might come to a deeper knowledge and love of the LORD as well. Through Moses’ seeking the face of God all of Israel was given a way forward to be God’s people… to truly belong to Him.
In Jesus Christ the Living God offers this same gift to us. As the Eternal Son of God Christ reveals God’s true face to the world… that He is our Merciful Rescuer, and Faithful Provider. That His desire is still for all of humanity, as stiff-necked and sinful as we are, to truly belong with Him. For Him to be our God, and for us to be His people. To share in His divine life, both now and forever.
Jesus stood alone on our behalf to reconcile us to God. To live among us as God’s faithful covenant partner, and in His death on the cross to deal with all our sin once and for all: repairing our relationship with the Living God, that united to Him in faith, we can be with our Saviour forever.
There are many gifts that come with sharing in God’s own divine life, but the greatest gift He offers us is the gift of Himself… that in Jesus Christ we all are invited to truly know and love the LORD… to belong to Him, and belong with Him all of our days. So let us receive everything that our Saviour desires for us, and above all else may we seek to draw near to Jesus: who is the face, the goodness, and the glory of God. Amen.
 John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 313.
 Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, trans. by Abraham Malherbe & Everett Ferguson (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), 116.
Today is the Feast of our Patron Saint, Luke the Evangelist.
"Luke is mentioned three times in the Letters of Saint Paul, once as “the beloved physician,” but the Church remembers him chiefly as the author of two books which came to be included in the New Testament.
The first book is the one we know as the Gospel according to Luke, where he told the story of Jesus, his preaching and mighty work in the border-country of Galilee, his suffering, death and resurrection at the very heart of Israel, in Jerusalem itself. The second of Luke’s two books is the Acts of the Apostles.
In this work he told how the good news was spread: how the apostles began their preaching at Jerusalem and moved westwards with the gospel until they reached the very centre of the Roman empire, the city of Rome itself. Thus, in these two books, Luke presented a comprehensive history of the gospel in terms of a journey from the hinterland of Judea to the heartland of imperial power and civilization.
We offer thanks to God for bestowing such gifts of understanding and literary skill on Luke, and we celebrate Luke himself because he responded so faithfully to the working of grace. But still, we remember the story-teller for the story that he told; and that story is the Lord’s story. So, on this his day, we can honour Saint Luke no more highly than by joining in the telling of that story, which God gave him power to give us; that story which
is the praise of God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit."
-Taken from For All The Saints: Prayers and Readings for Saints’ Days, (Toronto: ABC Publishing, 2007), page 310.
Even though we are celebrating St. Luke's feast, our readings for this week will still follow the standard lectionary readings, allowing us to continue our journey through the Book of Exodus.
Our Service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon for this week can be found here:
And our Song for this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Exodus 32:1-14 | Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 | Philippians 4:1–9 | Matthew 22:1–14
What are we thankful for today?
We know this Thanksgiving weekend will look a lot different than it has in the past. Big family meals and gatherings are basically a no-go, and so much of our familiar ways of celebrating have had to be re-arranged. Yet even so, we really do have much we can be thankful for. And I hope we all take some time this weekend to reflect on, and share, our sense of gratitude… not only with our words, but with how we choose to live each day.
Saying ‘thank you’ is one thing. Being thankful is another.
This Fall we have been following the story of Exodus: How the Living God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt, and led them into a brand-new life as His own chosen people. Last week we heard how God had let them safely to Mt. Sinai, and had graciously given them the Law to guide their life with Him: teaching them how to faithfully love and serve the LORD, and how to love and serve the needs of each other as well. God was giving this group of ex-slaves a key role within His Kingdom, inviting them to take part in His holy, blessed life. And for their part, the people of Israel are all on board. They vigorously say yes to all God asks of them: In Exodus 24 we can hear their response:
“Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord… Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient,” (Exodus 24:3-4, 7).
Twice they promise to do all that the LORD has spoken. To respond to His rescuing love with total faithfulness. So, God takes the Israelites at their word, calling Moses up the Mountain to flesh out all the details of how Almighty God would dwell among His new people. In that meeting, God gives all sorts of instructions to Moses about the building of the Tabernacle: the holy Tent of Meeting where God’s glorious presence would tangibly reside. And also about an order of priests: set aside to serve by offering sacrifices, helping the people to draw close to the LORD, and follow His holy ways. And then the LORD laid out a system of sacred festivals: to celebrate the story of God’s gracious love for His people. In short, God was giving Israel rich and elaborate ways to keep alive and nourish their faith and gratitude, giving shape to their relationship with God, each other, and the nations around them.
But as the LORD and Moses discuss what was to be a beautiful new beginning… the Israelites get impatient, and completely go back on their word. They get Aaron, the priest, to create for them a god of their own liking… an idol made of lifeless gold to bow down to in worship. They hold a festival to celebrate this idol, and to give themselves over to wild revelry. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, Israel was betraying the LORD at the very beginning of their new relationship with Him, poisoning the whole plan God had intended for them. As the scholar John Sailhamer points out: “the incident of the worship of the golden calf cast a dark shadow across Israel’s relationship with God, much the same way as the account of the Fall in Genesis 3 marked a major turning point in God’s dealing with humanity.” This wasn’t just a simple mistake, or a momentary lapse in judgment: the people were spitting in the face of the LORD who rescued them.
Some of us know the terrible damage that often comes with betrayal. Broken trust can be extremely hard to repair. And though there are some obvious examples of betrayal we could easily name, unfaithfulness can take all sorts of more subtle shapes and forms. What about taking for granted those we once promised to love? Of neglecting our commitments to those who rely on us? What about chasing after lifeless objects, images, and idols, that claim to offer excitement and joy, but only lead to death? Instead of keeping faith, and treasuring what we have been given in life, we can all be tempted to chase after our own selfish desires.
In the face of their betrayal, we hear God’s terrifying response. He says to Moses: ‘I’m done. I’m out. If they’d rather live for and worship that lifeless gold than Me, their Saviour, I’ll give them what they want. I am done with Israel.’ The stakes could not be higher for the Israelites. By themselves, they’d never have left the oppression of Egypt. And by themselves, they didn’t stand a chance in the wilderness. Israel’s only hope lay in God’s ongoing faithfulness. In His rescuing mercy, and life-giving love. And they had just trampled His gracious gift into the dust. Like a bride who runs away with a stranger during the wedding ceremony, Israel almost shattered their story with God as soon as it had begun.
But even in this terrifying moment of betrayal, where God threatens to wipe Israel out and start all over again, God also reveals His faithfulness in a surprising way: Brevard Childs points out that, “God vows the severest punishment imaginable, but then suddenly he conditions it, as it were, on Moses’ agreement. ‘Let me alone that I may consume them.’ The effect is that God himself leaves the door open for intercession. He allows himself to be persuaded.”  By inviting Moses into a place where he could stand up for Israel, God gave the people an advocate… someone who would have their back. Not because they deserved it, but because the LORD is gracious… and faithful to the end, even when we humans are not.
So Moses steps through the door that God opens for him, and he pleads for God to spare Israel and forgive their betrayal. But how he does this matters. As Brevard Childs explains, “Moses does not attempt to excuse or mitigate Israel’s sin, but he seeks to overcome it by falling back ultimately on what God can do in making a future possible.” Though Moses makes his case for the people, he knows that Israel’s only hope is in the steadfastness and mercy that defines the Living God. In the end, it’s God’s own faithfulness that saves Israel. Moses prays that God we be true to Himself, even though His people proved false.
And because the LORD is faithful, He listens to Moses’ prayer, and the story of God’s people goes on, though not without some scars. Their ingratitude and faithlessness did not end overnight, and throughout the story of the Bible they would frequently struggle to follow the ways of their Saving LORD. The theologian Peter Leithart points out that this is not simply Israel’s struggle, but the same temptation is there for all who seek to follow the Living God. We are all tempted at times to turn from Him, and giving our hearts to things that lead us far away from His side. “Already at Sinai,” Leithart writes, “we get a preview of Israel’s history of idolatry, image-worship, blasphemy, and Sabbath-breaking. Already at the foot of Sinai, we know we need God’s Word written on our hearts by the finger of the Spirit. We need a mediator better than Moses, one who can demolish the idols of our hearts.” Thankfully, the Living God has given us this better advocate: coming Himself to stand and pray for us in Jesus Christ His Son.
Christ as the greatest intercessor taking up the cause of our sinful world, and securing their salvation by laying His own life down for us all. Jesus alone has fulfilled “All that the Lord has spoken”, keeping the Law in total trust and faithfulness to His Heavenly Father. In His death and resurrection, Christ repaired our broken relationship with God, reconciling our rebellious, and ungrateful hearts to be united through Him to our merciful Creator. In Christ, God Himself bears the burden of our betrayal, and in self-giving, faithful love, refuses to abandon His people, but instead to sets us free, no longer to chase after dead idols, but to share in His divine life, with joy and thankfulness.
Friends, God’s ongoing faithfulness in Jesus is our hope. From beginning to end, we owe it all to the grace of God. Brevard Childs writes, “Israel and the church have their existence because God picked up the pieces. There was no golden period of unblemished saintliness. Rather, the people of God are from the outset the forgiven and restored community. There is a covenant— and a new covenant—because it was maintained from God’s side. If there ever was a danger of understanding Sinai as a pact between partners, the rupture of the golden calf made crystal clear that the foundation of the covenant was, above all, divine mercy and forgiveness.”
As we commemorate the story of God’s gracious love for His people, celebrating what Jesus has done for us, by drawing near to His table, may He nourish us through His Holy Spirit and keep alive within us hearts filled with gratitude and trust that shape the way we live, with God, with each other, and with everyone around us. Happy Thanksgiving, let us thank God for His faithfulness. Amen.
 John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 310.
 Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary, ed. Peter Ackroyd et al., The Old Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 567.
 Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary, ed. Peter Ackroyd et al., The Old Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 568.
 Peter J. Leithart, The Ten Commandments: A Guide to the Perfect Law of Liberty, Christian Essentials (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020), 28.
 Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary, ed. Peter Ackroyd et al., The Old Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 580.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Even though this holiday will look very different for many of us this year, we still have much to be grateful for, especially when we consider all the LORD has done for us. In our service this week we continue our journey through the book of Exodus, and find there one of the absolute worst failures of God's people, and an incredibly gracious gift from God as well.
For another close look at the gracious character of God, check out this short video from the folks at the Bible Project:
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs this week (including our All-Ages Song) can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Exodus 20:1–4, 7–9, 12–20 | Psalm 19 | Philippians 3:4b–14 | Matthew 21:33–46
“Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…”
We have been given a lot of new rules and guidelines to follow these past seven months… helping us try to navigate this new world COVID-19 has brought to us. Here in New Brunswick, our Provincial government and medical experts did their best to communicate the seriousness of this new threat we were facing… and thankfully, most of us trusted them enough to follow their lead. Although back in the Spring no one really liked the idea of shutting down the economy, of closing schools, wearing masks, and isolating at home… we were told these would be the best ways to protect ourselves, and those around us. And though today we know that our country and world still has a long path ahead before this pandemic is over, these guidelines and rules have played a big part in helping us to move forward.
Our journey through the book of Exodus this fall has brought us from the banks of the Nile River, to the foot of Mt. Sinai… to the moment when the Living God meets with Israel His people and gives to them a brand new way of living in this world.
Just before our reading today, in Exodus chapter 19, the stage is set for Israel to receive this gracious gift. (Exodus 19:3-6): Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”
From this company of ex-slaves, God was going to make something new: a priestly kingdom, a holy nation, a people set apart to reflect the character and saving grace of God out into the world… to become His own treasured possession by trusting in Him. Obeying the LORD’s voice, keeping His covenant, and walking in His ways was to be the path forward for Israel to share in the new life of God.
Here at Mt. Sinai, the Living God was entering into a covenant with Israel; a sacred relationship defined by faithfulness, and upheld by rules, by clear expectations of what the relationship required. In many ways, it’s like a marriage between God and Israel: solemn vows were made about the shape of their future life together. And so, the LORD spells out for Israel what it looks like to be His people. As the scholar Brevard Childs points out, these rules were not simply pulled out of nowhere, “[r]ather, they reflected the essential character of God himself.” So to empower them to reflect God’s own goodness and character into the world, God gives them the Law, most notably the portion we read this morning: in Hebrew, their called the “Ten Words”, or as we know them, the Ten Commandments.
Many of us know these words well… they have been treasured for generations… but the story of when and why they were given can easily fade into the background, which, unfortunately, can make it easy to misunderstand their purpose. But they were not handed down from heaven as timeless truths meant to stand on their own… or as bits of spiritual advice for those looking to better themselves. No, these words, these commandments, play a part in the bigger story of God’s great rescue mission, as the LORD of all the earth seeks to save His captive creatures.
Taken all by themselves, it can seem like God’s just given us a checklist for how to get in His good books… for how you and I can earn His approval. But if we are following the story of Exodus and the Bible so far, we can see that the people of Israel were already in God’s good books! He has already stepped in to save them, in pretty dramatic ways, not because they were awesome, or perfect, or good, but out of compassion and mercy. In fact, up to this point, Israel had more often been a pain in the neck… stubbornly doubting God’s faithfulness at every bump in the road. Yet still, God desired to give Himself to this people, to share His holy life with them, and through them, with the world. This covenant relationship, and the Law that came with it, were God’s gracious gifts to a community of messed up people that could not earn or deserve it… but they could receive it, and believe in the One who was giving it. With His help, they could become a people who truly shared in God’s new life. The LORD did not lay down the Law so Israel could make themselves worthy of His love… No, the LORD first loved Israel, as messed up as they were, and so He gave them the Law to draw them even closer.
We don’t often think of rules and commandments as gifts, but through them God was at work bringing about His rescue mission: first for Israel, and then through them, for everyone. Through the Law, God was requiring the Israelites to trust Him with their lives… with how they existed in their communities, their families, and their hearts. These Laws were given to protect and preserve the wellbeing of everyone; as individuals, and as a wider society. Shaping their life together were rules defending the weak from the strong, guiding everyone together into the good future God had in store for them.
At the heart of the Law was wholehearted devotion to the Living God, and along with that came the commitment to defend and honour each other. In other words, the people were to love God, and to love their neighbours.
Though there were many other laws and commandments given at Sinai, these ten serve as a central core which the others connect to. But one could ask this morning, how do they connect with us today? Where do the Ten Commandments fit into where we are now in the Christian story? In the story of God’s rescue mission in the light of Jesus Christ?
Over the years, there have been may ways Christians have tried to answer this question… some much more successfully, and faithfully than others. Some see them as the core of what it means to obey God… as if the Christian life was basically about following these Laws. Others seem them as obsolete, as no longer needed, just some ancient relics from the past, that we should do away with.
Thankfully, the Bible, especially the New Testament, has much to say about the Law, and about the role it plays in God’s ongoing mission to save the world. And it offers us another perspective on how Christians connect to the Law: one which, not surprisingly, points us to Jesus.
For Christians, the Law remains a treasured part of our story, for the same LORD who rescued Israel, and gave them the Law at Sinai, gave Himself to the world through Jesus Christ to rescue us all at the cross. The Law played an essential role in preparing the people of God for the coming of God’s Messiah, guiding them towards this brand-new reality that the LORD always had in the works… that is, to reconcile and reunite His lost and lawless world to Himself through the life, death, and resurrection of the Eternal Son of God.
Brevard Childs again points out that “[t]he intent of the commandments is to engender love of God and love of neighbor.”  Christ came to fulfill the commandments, to do what even Israel could not: to completely embody the character and goodness of God, to be utterly devoted to the will of His Father in Heaven, and in self-giving love, to lay down His life to rescue sinners… to set them free to receive the gift of God’s own Holy Spirit, so that they too can share in God’s new life, now and forever.
For Christians, the commandments point us onward to Jesus Christ: to the one who is Himself the saving love of God in the flesh. They draw us towards a deeper devotion to Him, and trust in His love for us, so that through His Spirit within us, we can share God’s love with our neighbours. Our relationship with God is not based on obeying the Law, but on Jesus Christ, and on what He has done to rescue us. The Ten Commandments, give us a taste of God’s faithful love, inviting us to trust Him, with the whole scope of our entire lives.
So may we receive them as God’s gift to us, preparing us to take part in God’s new life through Jesus His Son, and empowering us through His Spirit to play our part in His story: reflecting the goodness and saving grace of God out into the world. Amen.
 Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary, ed. Peter Ackroyd et al., The Old Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 397.
 Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary, ed. Peter Ackroyd et al., The Old Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 439.
ville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 439.
I Am the LORD
Who rescued you
These 10 Commands
Will help you be
My children who
Have been set free
You must have no other gods beside Me
Don't make idols
Don't misuse My name
Rest on the sabbath day
Be sure to honour your parents, do not kill
Don't commit adultery
Do not steal or lie
Don't chase after what others have
This week we reflect on God's gift of the Ten Commandments to Israel, and how this gift fits into the wider story of God's rescuing love.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week, including our All-Ages Song, can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Exodus 17:1-7 | Psalm 78:1–4, 12–16 | Philippians 2:1–13 | Matthew 21:23–32
“But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, 'Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?'”
Today’s reading from Exodus reminds me of the old saying: ‘those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it’.
Just last week we heard about how the Israelites, taking their first steps on the road to freedom and the Promised Land, had quickly turned to despair when they ran out of food. Seeing no hope ahead, they complained against Moses and the LORD, only to be given an incredible gift: divine bread, enough to sustain the entire community. Offered, not just once, but faithfully from that day forward. The Living God miraculously provided for His people, inviting them to trust and rely on His merciful love.
Not long before this episode with the hunger and the heavenly bread, Israel had already faced trouble finding water. In Exodus chapter 15, only a few days after God had rescued them from the Egyptian army by parting the sea before them and leading them to safety, God led them into a region where the only water was unfit to drink. In response to the people’s complaints, God makes the bitter waters sweet; another gift meant to meet their needs, and show to them his love.
So far, at every step of the way, the LORD has been utterly faithful. Though He is leading Israel into uncharted and dangerous territory, He is continually present with them, and lovingly provides everything that they need to follow Him. But instead of Israel growing more confident and trusting in God, we find another dangerous trend beginning to develop… a pattern of doubt and disbelief that was quickly escalating.
“Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”” How often have we seen this pattern at work in the world: faced with troubles, we give in to fear, then we look for someone to blame… and then we start to look for things to throw at them. Anger and violence flow freely from fear and desperation… from believing there is no help coming, no hope on the horizon. For Israel, the stakes were raised, and so was their sense of panic… again they forgot the One who had been with them all along, who had rescued them in the past… and the One who would rescue them again.
Their fear led them to doubt the LORD, and to resist His lead.
We can see something similar going on in our Gospel reading this morning, in the confrontation unfolding between Jesus and the Temple leadership… the chief priests and scribes charged with leading what was left of Israel to be faithful to the LORD and to walk in His ways. Centuries after the people quarreled with Moses in the wilderness, panicking on their way towards the Promised Land, Jesus arrives in triumph to holy city, Jerusalem, the capitol of the Promised Land… and He starts disrupting everything. He boldly upsets the political, spiritual, and social status quo, calling out the hypocrisy and hard-heartedness of those claiming to be in charge. Matthew’s picture of Christ is of someone who comes, not simply to comfort and console, but to lead His people into the true Kingdom of God. To lead them away from self-righteousness, and the love of power and status. To lead them into the humble and holy ways of the Living God.
No wonder Jesus was seen as a threat to those on top. To those who wanted to be the ones calling all the shots… the ones who wanted to take the lead all for themselves. Christ was threatening their authority… challenging their right to rule… and endangering their high standing with all the people. And so their fear leads them to doubt… to reject Christ’s powerful words and deeds… and then it leads them to anger… to quarreling against this dangerous upstart. “By what authority are you doing these things,” they demand of Him, “who gave you this authority?” They were not looking for Christ’s answer here; they were looking for a fight.
The response of Jesus is startling… upsetting many of our assumptions about what God wants from us. To the religious leaders, scholars, priests, and teachers of his day, Jesus says “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.” Despite all of their status, and credentials, and power… despite all of their religious background and practices… outcasts and outright sinners were closer to God’s kingdom then they were, because the sinners believed and turned back to God, while they doubted and dug in their heels.
In the ministry of John, and ultimately in the person and work of Jesus, the Living God was again leading His people into the way of freedom and life. But because of their fear and doubt, the chief priests and scribes were fighting against the LORD… unable to see God’s unexpected lifegiving Gift before them.
How often do these two stories from the pages of Scripture remind us of our own pasts? Of our own times of doubt? Do we remember the times when it seemed as though we didn’t have enough? When we could see no way forward, and we could feel our panic starting to rise? Do we remember when we felt that things were great, but then suddenly we were confronted by an uncomfortable truth that threatened to disrupt the things we held to be most dear? Do we ever remember being called out for being on the wrong path? Do we remember repeating the same mistakes, again and again?
If so, then both of these passages of the Bible have good news for us: The Living God, who led Israel through the arid wilderness… who humbly took on the form of a servant, in the Lord Jesus Christ… to rescue His people, and lead them into the Promised Kingdom of God… this same God is with us today, and He remains utterly faithful… even despite our ungratefulness, our fears, and unbelief.
God graciously poured out water for the Israelites when the rock was struck, even though they had done absolutely nothing to deserve it. And when the guilty ones… the sinners and reprobates believed and turned their hearts to God, Christ welcomed them wholeheartedly into the Promised Kingdom. From beginning to end, God’s story is about His ongoing rescue mission… bringing hope to the hopeless, and help to the lost… salvation for slaves and sinners.
Though we continue to struggle with fears and doubts, God has shown us again and again that He has not given up on any of us. He longs to break the patterns of disbelief in our lives, to draw us back to Himself through faith in His redeeming love.
Yes, we do well to learn from the poor examples of unbelief we have both heard and experienced first hand, and with fear and trembling work to follow Jesus into the way of salvation. But always our hope is that God Himself is still at work within us, transforming us through His Spirit to live wholeheartedly for the LORD.
In Christ we see God providing new life for any who will receive it: allowing Himself to be struck, to be killed upon the cross, all to free us sinners trapped by our fears, and doubts, and stubbornness… and to raise us up with Him to share in the holy life of God.
In Christ we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of our past… we need not keep falling back into the self-destructive patterns in our lives. God has poured out His grace through Jesus His Son to sustain and to save, not only those of us gathered here, but our whole frightened, doubting world.
So even in the face of our own fears and doubts, may the LORD pour out His grace, and keep us faithful to Jesus. Following His lead. Forgiven and freed. And empowered to help those around us find eternal life in Him. Amen.
God faithfully provides again and again, despite our fears and doubts.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Exodus 16:2-15 | Psalm 105:1–6, 37–45 | Philippians 1:21–30 | Matthew 20:1–16
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.
Today we continue our travels through the book of Exodus, following the unfolding story of the faithfulness of God as He rescues and redeems the people of Israel. So far we have seen how the LORD was moved with compassion at the sufferings of the Hebrews, and so He raised up a man named Moses: sending him to confront Pharaoh, and to demand His people’s release. We have seen God’s fearsome power at work, as He sends plague after plague, culminating with the death of all the firstborn of Egypt. We saw God part the sea to save Israel from destruction at Pharaoh’s hands, and God’s decisive act of deliverance: washing away Egypt’s army. And so now we have come to a new beginning: a new phase of Israel’s journey. They are finally out of Egypt, finally free from their old oppressors… now they are headed into the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. But their newfound freedom turns out to be much harder than Israel had imagined. Now they were confronting new dangers they were not prepared to face.
Exodus 16:1 “[O]n the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Not exactly a hopeful view of their situation.
Just over two weeks into their Exodus, the Israelites were despairing. Grumbling against Moses and Aaron, they say they’d be better off dead… longing for the life they’d had back in the land of Egypt. Back when they had plenty of meat and bread… back when life was familiar and safe.
Two weeks… how quickly we can forget the goodness and mercy of God. How quickly we can turn back to our old ways of life, even when they brought us nothing but misery and grief. With no food in sight, four centuries of oppression and suffering were forgotten. Along with Pharaoh’s brutal execution of their children, attempting to wipe out any hope for their future. Gone too was their memory of God mighty acts to save them: the plagues, parting of the waters… providing a way of escape when all hope was lost.
They had all witnessed first hand the saving love of the Living God… in a way no other nation on earth had ever experienced. Mere months before they were simply slaves crying out for mercy. Now they were free, with no one to hold them back from the new life God had in store for them. But what could they do when their path led them through a land completely empty of food? What were Moses and Aaron thinking? How could God treat them so poorly? How were they ever going to survive if they kept on following Him?
Faced with the undeniable danger of running out of food, Israel again could not see any possible way forward. Their trust was stretched to the limit… and so they grumbled and complained… something we can all be tempted to do in times of crisis. And I mean really, who among us would have acted differently? It’s not like they were upset about nothing, after all. We’re talking about one of the most basic needs there is. Israel needed food! They needed a whole lot of food! But it turns out they also needed to learn where too turn in their times of need. That instead of giving up and grumbling, they could instead continue to trust the One who had rescued them, the One who was still with them.
In spite of their doubts and complaining, God responds to their needs, both the lack of food and lack of faith, by graciously providing: “Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.” Miraculously, the LORD provides the Israelites with food… with a strange, unfamiliar substance they could turn into bread, but which they could not store up and hoard… it needed to be received daily.
The Old Testament scholar Victor Hamilton writes this about the impact this daily offering was intended to have: “Each day God would furnish a fresh supply of manna for His people. In this way God is teaching them about a relationship of trust, an attitude reflected later in the words of Jesus: ‘do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink… do not be anxious about tomorrow.’ The Israelites are to trust Him to meet their physical needs one day at a time. Tomorrow is His concern and problem, not theirs.” Along with the miraculous food, God was teaching the Israelites to trust Him. To believe that He would be faithful to them, always. Not only through those dramatic acts of deliverance in the past… but by supplying daily everything they would need to follow Him.
Up until this point, Israel’s relationship with the LORD had been somewhat limited to witnessing His saving work, and following His lead. Now God was taking that relationship into a deeper level: forming a pattern of life for His people dependent on His ongoing grace, inviting them to trust Him with the very basics of life. They were still to look back and remember those great acts of God’s redeeming love, but now they were also to look ahead and expect to find His grace each day. They were now to become a people who placed their whole hope in their Saviour, even in the face of some very real challenges.
We too are being invited into this deeper walk with God, into a way of life where we can bring all our cares and concerns before Him, and in this way, to learn how to rely upon His love. We’re invited to turn to God, not only when we’re at the end of our rope, but to actively look to Him each day, for our sustenance and strength.
This past year we have all seen our world dramatically change before our eyes. Many things that once seemed safe and familiar have now been severely shaken, and it can be tempting to look back and grumble at all that has been left behind. We too can easily forget the saving grace we have received, and how our Saviour has been there for us, in our every hour of need. But despite the very real challenges that lie ahead of us, God is calling us to be a people who can face the future in hope. A people who expect to find the mercy of God each day, and who know where to turn, when we can’t find our own way.
“Give us today our daily bread.” Our Lord Jesus has taught us to pray… inviting us, in our times of need not to give up or to grumble, but to cry out in faith to our merciful heavenly Father. Through prayer, through seeking to share our lives with the Living God each day, we too can learn to rely upon His faithful, constant love. We too can learn to look with hope to where our LORD is leading us, eager to receive and share His grace with our world. Through Jesus Christ we have been set free for this brand-new life with God; guided by His Holy Spirit into God’s Promised Kingdom. In Jesus, the true bread from heaven, God has provided everything we need, and He asks us now to trust Him with everything we are… with our yesterdays, todays, tomorrows, and forever. Amen.
 Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Pentateuch (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982), 186-187.
We're continuing our journey through the book of Exodus, where this week we hear of God's sustaining grace and invitation to a deeper faith.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here:
Scripture Readings: Exodus 14:19-31 | Exodus 15:1b–11, 20–21 | Romans 14:1–12 | Matthew 18:21–35
“Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.”
I was baptized when I was 15 years old, 20 years ago. Though I grew up in a Christian family, which was quite active in our Church, it was the norm in the denomination, the branch of the Church I grew up in, to wait until someone was old enough to make up their minds for themselves. I can remember a lot about that day: I remember standing up at the front of the Church looking out at everyone. I remember the great big tank that was prepared for us to be submerged in. But most of all I remember what I was feeling: fear. I knew that this was to be one of those decisive moments in my life… when something was supposed to change… and that something was supposed to be me. I was afraid that this was my one big shot to get things straight with God… and that if I messed up after taking this step, then all hope for me would be lost. It turns out, I still had a lot to learn about what the Living God is like, and what He actually has in store for those who seek to follow Him. But at the time that 15 year-old infant in faith, looked at the water and felt dread.
As strange as it may seem, facing baptism I felt hopeless.
As we turn to the Exodus story today, we find that the Israelites have been brought to the brink of a seemingly hopeless situation as well. After the final plague, in which the firstborn of Egypt all died, while the Israelites who faithfully ate the Passover supper were spared, Pharaoh finally relents, and grudgingly lets the people of Israel go. But not long afterwards, he changes his mind again, and with his army, Pharaoh pursues the Israelite host, catching up with them by the shores of the Red Sea, (or the Reed Sea). What we miss in our reading today is how the Israelites respond. In Exodus 14:10-14 we hear it loud and clear:
“In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.””
What follows is one of the most dramatic images in the Bible of the Living God’s decisive acts of deliverance.
The waters part, and Israel crosses the sea completely unharmed. Pharaoh’s army pursues, the LORD completely washes them away. All that had once held them in bondage and terror, God covers with the waters, to free His powerless people. The scholar Brevard Childs makes this claim about the importance of this story:
“God’s miraculous rescue of Israel at the sea was remembered as the event by which God brought into being his people. Israel left Egypt as fleeing slaves, and emerged from the sea as a people who testified to God’s miraculous deliverance. The tradition is unanimous in stressing that the rescue was accomplished through the intervention of God and God alone. He had provided a way of escape when there was no hope.”
This passing through the waters was God’s act of re-creating Israel: a new beginning, only made possible by His power and grace. Stunned, but saved, the Israelites soon broke out into song, praising Yahweh, the LORD, and worshipping Him in faith and reverent fear.
Sounds like a wonderful conclusion to the story… but it’s not. Really, we are only just at the beginning.
We can do this in our own lives too: mistake beginnings for endings. Looking around and seeing no signs of hope, no possible way forward, when in fact we are on the brink of an unlooked-for opportunity, a breaking in of grace we could not have imagined before.
This happens over and over again, in the Scriptures too: God’s people find themselves in hopeless situations, usually, but not always, because of their own unfaithfulness, but then God opens up for them a new pathway to life: finding them in the darkness, and leading them into the light.
At the root of this confusion, this temptation to despair… to look at our situations, or even ourselves, as completely hopeless… is a misunderstanding of the character and nature of God. A misreading of the story of who He is and what He is up to. Too often, when like the Israelites, all we can see are Pharaoh’s armies and the impassable waters, we believe in them more than we believe in our Saviour, assuming the LORD has left us to fend for ourselves. We might doubt His rescuing power, or His concern for us. We might even imagine that God Himself wants to wash us away. That He’s just waiting for an excuse to crush and condemn us… cutting us off, and covering us with the deadly waves.
This is what filled my 15 year old heart and mind with dread. But what I failed to understand all those long years ago, as I was standing in fear in front of my Church, about to be baptized, was that this was not my one big shot to get myself straight with God… it was all God’s gracious act to wash me clean and set me free: This was God’s gift, to unite me in faith to Jesus, His Son, who loves us and gave His life for every one of us. I had completely misjudged the LORD and what He wanted for me, which is something I often continue to do, even 20 years later. So focused on my own struggles and sins, I couldn’t imagine He’d really love and fight for me. That God would strive to save somebody as broken as me.
But that’s exactly what God is up to, that’s EXACTLY who God is: rescuing, saving lost, and broken, sinful, hopeless people… mercifully setting us free from everything that keeps us ensnared and enslaved, and eager for us to share in His freedom and holy love. Eager to be God for us, and to bring us all to a new beginning: to re-create us into His people, that is, to become like Him. Not driven to look down on or condemn, but to strengthen and support. Not vindictive or unforgiving, but overflowing with mercy.
Our other Scripture passages point to this new pathway… to this God-shaped way of life. Not as perfectionistic ideals, but as life-giving steps towards our LORD, sharing in His nature through His Spirit at work in us.
In our reading from Romans: St. Paul insists that judging each other must cease. Self-righteousness tears communities apart, and breeds all sorts of bitterness, feeding the selfishness that quickly forgets the graciousness of God. Israel was not rescued because they were great, or because they did everything right… but because God was merciful to them, so we must be merciful too.
And in Matthew, we heard the words of Christ that forgiveness must flow. That we are to be a community where it is both received and offered. This is so hard, but so vital, so essential to our story. We confess each week when we recite the Creed that we believe in the forgiveness of sins. That when Jesus Christ came in the flesh “for us and for our salvation”, that He brought the forgiveness of God tangibly to our guilty world, to set us free from our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. For this to be more than pious words, we must actually put them into practice: following Jesus and stepping towards forgiving others… and maybe even ourselves.
This is only the beginning of where God is guiding us. Wherever we are today in our walk of faith, God has more for us in store. More peace to be found in placing our trust in His power and grace. More joy as we see His Spirit still at work in the world. More freedom as His forgiveness flows both to, and through, us. More life as He leads us into the way of holy love.
I have learned a lot more about the power and grace of God these past 20 years, as time and again in my struggles and fears, Christ has covered me with the waves of His love… calling me to a deeper faith, a deeper trust in Him, to be who He really is: the Saviour of the world, and my Saviour too.
 Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary, ed. Peter Ackroyd et al., The Old Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 237.
Today we hear about the Living God's decisive act of deliverance for Israel: guiding them safely through the sea, and ending their centuries of enslavement. We are also asked to consider today what being set free by God actually looks like, and how it effects the ways we are to relate to those around us.
Our service of Morning Prayer, Bulletin, and Sermon this week can be found here:
And our Songs for this week can be found here: