Scripture Readings: Exodus 3:1–15 | Psalm 105:1–6, 23–26, 45 | Romans 12:9–21 | Matthew 16:21–28
“The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:9-10).
As you may know, I did not grow up an Anglican. I was raised in the Free Methodist Church, which is much more common in Ontario and further West… a branch of the Methodist movement, which was begun by John and Charles Wesley, way back in the 1700’s and existing within the Church of England until after the brothers had died. The Methodist movement was begun with intention of helping Christian people to stay on track… to remain faithful to God’s calling in a time of great upheaval and challenges, instead of slipping into complacency, or compromise with evil at work in that corner of the world.
Anyway, I grew up as a Free Methodist, and cutting a very long story short, it was with the intention of becoming a Free Methodist pastor that I attended Wycliffe College, an evangelical Anglican seminary in the heart of Toronto.
After my time at that wonderful school, I was struggling to find a clear next step: there were very few positions open for me within the Free Methodist Church across the country, and those I had been able to explore ended up passing me over. It was a pretty disheartening time, to be sure.
Shortly after hearing back from one such congregation, I ran into one of my Wycliffe friends who encouraged me to check out New Brunswick, and explore ministry with the Anglican Church… which by that time I had come to know and love while attending Wycliffe. That conversation led Bethany and I to consider a whole new path forward… one with many unknowns, and also many exciting possibilities. One thing led to another, and soon we were on our way to the Kennebecasis Valley, for me to work with young people and pursue Anglican ordination. And the rest is history.
Years ago, I would never have imagined myself here, with the life and ministry I firmly believe God has invited me to share in. But it seems sometimes what we… and our whole world, really needs is a change of plans. To let our goals give way to God’s… and let Him guide the way.
In our Scripture readings today, we see two people called to a whole new path in life… one they could not have imagined, didn’t seem to want, and even strongly resisted. And yet, both of them would come to learn that the Living God draws us to Himself, not to give us what we think we want, but to change our lives for good by His holy love. And so, drawing near to this God requires us to respond with humility and trust, but it also opens us up to share His New Life… not only for us, but for our world.
In our first reading, we heard the story of the call of Moses: how the Living God encountered him in the wilderness, in the burning bush, and commissions him to go back to Egypt as His chosen messenger to bring freedom and deliverance to His oppressed people.
“Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…
The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:7-8a, 9-10)
Now this was not at all what Moses had wanted for himself. He was content to hide out in the wilderness… to start a new life as a shepherd, in Midian, and to avoid all the dangers of Egypt that he had fled. Confronting Pharaoh the mightiest King in the region on the behalf of a people he technically belonged to, but barely knew did not factor into his life goals at all. But it turns out, God had other plans.
Plans to turn Moses’ life, as unlikely as it may have seemed, into a means of His grace… to work through him to rescue Israel from their bondage and misery, and to reveal to them the good news that the God of all creation really does care for them. That He knows their pain, and their suffering, and that He will save them… changing their lives for good… so they can come to know and share their lives with their loving Saviour, and learn to walk in His ways.
Long story short, Moses runs out of excuses, and soon get’s swept up into God’s great rescue mission… empowered to lead the people of Israel out of slavery, through the wilderness, and into a New Life with the Living God.
If Moses had stuck to his old plans… think of how different the story would be… not just for Israel all those years ago, but even for you and I today… for our world. God drew him close to change his life for his own good, and for the good of us all.
Turning now to our reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel, we heard Jesus teaching His followers about God’s plans for His own life… and how it would lead, not to triumph after triumph, but to suffering, to rejection, and to the cross.
Christ begins to let them in on God’s ultimate rescue mission: that He was heading to Jerusalem in order to confront the powers of darkness that held, not only His covenant people, but all of humanity trapped in bondage: breaking the chains of fear, of guilt, and of death. But this would mean choosing to suffer for the sake of all… bearing the sins and sorrows of the whole world on the cross. It would mean accepting humiliation, rejection, devastation, and a cruel, shameful death.
But doing so would reveal once and for all that the God of all creation really does care… not just for one people, or for “good” people… but for all. For sinners of all shapes and sizes. That He knows our pain, our failures, and our brokenness, and that He will save us… changing our lives for good… through His death and resurrection, so we can come to know and share our lives with our loving Saviour… so we could be filled with His Holy Spirit, and learn from Him to walk in God’s ways.
But not everyone was on board with the direction Jesus was plotting for Himself, and for their whole movement.
Matthew 16:22, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’”
And whether he understood this or not, St. Peter’s attempt to change the mind and path of Jesus was not just a temptation to avoid the horrors of the cross, but to abandon the entire project of God’s rescue mission and His Kingdom work in the world.
Up until then, Peter and the disciples were content to follow Jesus, assuming it meant growing their influence, achieving success… and that all the good things they saw Jesus do would keep happening. But all that would end if Jesus moved forward in this new direction. The cross simply didn’t fit into St. Peter’s plans, but God had other plans, and the cross turns out to be completely essential to what the LORD was up to all along.
And so we here in Matthew 16:23, Jesus “turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
And then our Lord goes on to say that, if we want to share in God’s New Life, this is the path He must take, and the path we must follow Him on… not the path of triumph, or of hiding and biding our time, but of practicing faithfulness to God and His ways, even in a world that has no place for it.
Even if it means that we must suffer like Jesus, maybe not on a cross, but in all sorts of ways, we do so in the hope of being raised to life with Him. Of sharing in God’s New Creation, finally set free from all sorrow, suffering, sin, and bondage to death. Set free by the blood of Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord shed once on the cross for all.
Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus says to His disciples, back then and here today: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
But to actually do this… to follow Jesus, we really do need to trust Him.
To trust that God’s plans for us are actually better than our plans for ourselves. To trust that the hard road of the cross is actually the path to life. To trust that the One who created our world cares for us all far more than we could ever imagine, and that He will not abandon us, even if we must lay down our lives. To trust that just as Jesus our Lord was raised from the dead, in Him, we too will rise victorious.
So, will we trust the Living God and follow His ways… even if it means changing our plans?
Here’s where we run into our own set of temptations: the temptation to retreat like Moses, and avoid our risky calling to be God’s agents of grace in our own corner of the world. Or the temptation to turn aside like St. Peter, from the core of Christ’s mission, and seek to make Him into a means, not of God’s saving grace, but to achieve our own hopes for ourselves.
This temptation is a big one we can see at work all over the place: trying to make Jesus our Lord into a tool to bless our plans and to make our dreams come true… using God and the Christian faith to justify all sorts of things:
Rampant consumerism, selfishness, and greed. Oppression of others, cruelty, hatred, and violence. Idolized individualism… “everyone doing whatever is right in their own eyes” …instead of being transformed and shaped… changed by the holy love of the LORD for good.
Following Jesus really does mean denying ourselves… in the sense of saying 'no' to anything at work in us that resists God’s work, and leads us away from His plans.
In our reading from the letter to the Romans, St. Paul, whose whole life is a witness of what it means to let God change our life, gives us a clear image of the kind of life God has in mind for us His people… the kind of shape, reflecting God’s own holy love, that we are meant to embody: Romans 12:9-21,
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Many who call themselves Christians live lives that look nothing like this... or like our loving Saviour. Instead, they simply chase after their own desires, and wear a religious disguise... whether they realize it or not.
And if our lives are at odds with the clear path that Jesus our Lord has called us to follow, then we too need to heed His words to St. Peter… “you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Thankfully, like St. Peter, we too can hear these words, not only as a rebuke, but as a renewed invitation to draw near again… and let Jesus change us by His saving grace. And like Moses, our fears and insecurities are no match for God’s mercy and power, able to work through us His rescued children to bring His New Creation to life.
The point isn’t to just get caught up in focusing on our own private religious experience… but to draw near to the Living God… and by His grace to participate in His Kingdom work and Great Rescue Mission in Christ… sharing God’s forgiveness, and the freedom of God’s holy love in our corner of the world here in Gondola Point.
The Living God draws us to Himself, not to give us what we want, but to shape us by His holy love… and so set us free. To follow Jesus requires a response of humble trust… of faith. But such faith opens up God’s New Life, not only for us, but for our world.
When as God’s people we trust Him enough to change us, and our plans… to truly take up our cross and follow Jesus, we play our part in God’s great rescue mission: revealing to all we encounter in our corner of the world that the God of all creation really does care for them, and wills to save them too.
That the Living God knows and cares about their struggles. That He understands all their burdens, and longs to set us all free and save us for good… through Christ’s rescuing love and resurrection life at work even now in His people… so we can all be filled with His Holy Spirit, and learn from Him to walk in God’s holy ways.
That together, we all might find the true life that only comes when we lay our lives down with Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School