New Food, For a New Way Forward - Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost (September 10, 2023)
Scripture Readings: Exodus 12:1–14 | Psalm 149 | Romans 13:8–14 | Matthew 18:15–20
One of the things I really missed during the long days of COVID was sharing meals with others… eating alongside friends and neighbours in fellowship, and without fear.
It’s one of those things most of us took for granted. I mean, eating food is something we do each day, but which takes on a whole new level of purpose and meaning when it becomes something we do together.
In the womb, an unborn child is nourished directly from their mother… secretly, unconsciously… but once the child is born, they must begin to be fed in a whole new way. Now they must be sustained by love… by the gracious care and intentional provision of another human. Suddenly, they’re part of a community, and a whole new way of life opens up for them.
As God’s children, we too are nourished and sustained in a new way… by the grace love of God… rescued and invited into a whole new way of life. A way of life meant to be shared… picked up and practiced in community.
In our Old Testament reading from the Book of Exodus this morning, we heard about a key moment of the saga of Abraham’s family: the first Passover, a sacred meal, inviting those who eat to share in the story of the Living God’s gracious rescue of Israel… saved from slavery in Egypt and given a brand new beginning… born into freedom for a whole new way to be God’s people together.
The celebration of Passover was to become a perpetual practice, an incredibly important reminder of how God had graciously delivered them: hearing their cries of distress, dramatically defeating their oppressors, and in every way inviting them to share in fellowship with Him; the Almighty Creator of all that is, sharing His Heavenly life with a people with no home, no land, no strength, and no future… and giving them everything they needed for a whole new kind of life.
On Passover, all of the congregation of Israel, in their own households were to kill a lamb, consume it together, and cover their doorposts with it’s blood, marking themselves off from those around them, as those ready to respond to God’s instructions… who believed in His deliverance:
Exodus 12:13, “The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.”
This sacred meal marked the start of the Exodus… Israel leaving their old way of life as frightened and powerless slaves in Egypt behind… and it marks the start a new beginning for them as the rescued people of God.
Having eaten the lamb, and having been protected by its blood, in faith and obedience to the Living God, Israel was being formed into a new community… one meant to live God’s way in the world, and to share His rescuing love: telling and retelling the story of God’s salvation from generation to generation… by returning again and again to the table together… eating and drinking the sacred meal the Living God had set for them. A meal meant to shape every aspect of their lives… drawing them to their Saviour, so that they could share in His holy love.
And here we find ourselves today at St. Luke’s, one household within the worldwide Christian community, united across time and space by our response to God’s gracious and saving love: to what the Living God has done in Jesus Christ at the cross… the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
We believe the Good News of His self-giving love: laying down His own sinless life at the cross to rescue us sinners, and set us free from our sins, our guilt, and our shame. We believe in His resurrection, setting us free from the fear of death… the fear of abandonment, of loss, and rejection… the fear of our enemies… the fear of each other… and opening up for us a new way to live God’s way even now. A way that will never end… uniting us in Jesus to the Living God and to each other once and for all.
We believe Jesus died for us. That He was raised for us. And that He lives to sustain and save us… that we are baptised into His death and resurrection… in order to be born from above to share in His New Life.
By faith, we eat His body. We drink His blood, trusting in His perfect sacrifice and power to make us and our world new… to stir up in us God’s New Creation, through His Holy Spirit at work in us.
Jesus Christ is Himself our sacred, spiritual food… setting us free to leave our old ways behind, and to begin a whole new Exodus together… to share in the life of a new community… one meant to live God’s way in the world, and to share His rescuing love: telling and retelling the story of God’s salvation from generation to generation… returning again and again to the Lord’s Table together… eating and drinking the sacred meal that the Living God had set for us all. A meal meant to shape every aspect of our lives… drawing us closer to our Saviour, so that together, we can share in His holy love. And share it with all those around us.
The New life of God that Jesus has set us free to share in is His holy love… which has always been at the heart of what it means to be God’s people… together.
I know there are lots of questions that we Christians and whole Churches are asking these days… questions about what we should be doing in times like this to stay relevant, or to bring more people to us. Questions about how to keep our own communities alive and well, and able to last from generation to generation. Questions about who’s right and wrong… and how to best move forward in a strange and frightening world.
But one big question I believe we all need to be asking, again and again, is this: How do we really love one another? How does God’s holy love call us to live today?
In our reading from the letter to the Romans, St. Paul reminds us of the centrality of love for those around us when it comes to living God’s way. Romans 13:8-10,
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
To be God’s people today… to be a Church family, a Christian community… means sharing together in God’s love. Drawing near to Jesus together to receive and reflect His self-giving love. We are fed and sustained by what Jesus has done for us all, but then we are called to offer the grace and compassion He offers us to each other… growing closer together in His love.
This all sounds great, but of course it’s not easy, as both the story of Israel and the Christan Church reminds us. And even Jesus prepared His disciples for the real challenges they would face as they sought to be His followers, a people shaped by His holy love.
In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus gives His followers instructions on how to deal with the divisions and the fallout from sin at work within their community… acknowledging that as we’re learning to live God’s ways, we will not always get it right.
Matthew 18:15-17, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” That is, as one who is now outside the fellowship, because they have chosen to break their fellowship with their fellow believers and not to be reconciled. This whole process is meant to pursue every opportunity for restoration and reconciliation, not to shame others, or play power games.
The point is that even though sharing God’s holy love is God’s will for His people, His love cannot be forced. We can resist it. We can reject it. We can turn against each other and wreak havoc within God’s family. But Christ shows us God’s love does not ignore discord, and the evil still at work in His people… but instead He charges us to deal with it. To be open ourselves to correction, and to seek reconciliation, and to leave our old ways of life behind for the sake of those around us.
In short, we cannot be careless in sharing God’s love. We must take it seriously.
Again, St. Paul’s words to us this morning ring true: Romans 13:11-14, “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
‘Wake up’, we’re told, ‘and live in the light.’ Put on Jesus, and with Him take up a whole new way of life together.
Remembering that this is not a solo journey, but the new Exodus for God’s whole family. That none of us are meant to being doing this alone, but alongside our sisters and brothers in Christ. And even more, with Jesus Himself! With the Risen Lord, our Saviour, who promised that: “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20).
It can be so easy to feel like we’re on our own though. To feel like it’s all resting on our shoulders, and that if we can’t keep things up it will all come crashing down around us.
Each one of us have areas in our lives where we feel like this, but this morning I want to touch on one example that we happen to share in common: the future fate of our Church.
St. Luke’s is a beautiful but small Church community. Thankfully, by God’s grace and the devotion of so many of you, we are still stable, and God’s Spirit is at work among us. But even so, as we look forward into truly unfamiliar territory, and see the world around us changing so fast, I know many of us at times are deeply afraid of losing our Church.
And this fear, while completely natural, can also get in the way of God’s holy love… making it harder to actually be the kind of community God set us free to share in, because we’re more concerned with holding onto what we know… than loving those around us.
When we find this fear at work inside us, we need to remember Jesus’ words: when even two or three are gathered together in His name… He will be with us!
In Jesus Christ the Risen Lord we are assured of our eternity, together with all of God’s people, throughout all of time. And even now, as we worship Him together we are actually gathering with the whole host of heaven! When we sing His praises, even if we only hear a few voices, we are truly joining in with the heavenly choir… glorifying the Living God together with all of Creation.
We could be a whole cathedral, packed full… or merely two Christians praying together by a bedside, and yet in that moment God is with us, and we are partaking in His Heavenly life.
Of course, it is right to acknowledge our fears, and concerns, and to faithfully do what we can to steward well what we have been entrusted with. And when we experience significant changes, or loss, it is good to grieve… to cry out to God, who hears and cares, and to bear our hearts to one other.
But as long as we faithfully draw near to God in Jesus Christ, and to each other in Him, we ultimately have nothing to fear. God’s holy love will see us through.
So then, if the way of holy love, which seeks to draw God’s often divided children back together again, is our new way of life… if this heavenly reunion is the future and freedom for which Jesus Christ gave His own precious body and blood to save and sustain, not only us, but everyone… what does this mean for how we seek to take part in it?
In other words: How do we really love one another? How does God’s holy love call us to live today?
Regardless of how long into the future our Parish continues to share in God’s mission, we here at St. Luke’s Gondola Point are called to fulfill the law of love… together, today. We’re called to let Christ’s love rule in our hearts, and our minds, and actions, and choices… sharing it with one another and all those around us. Receiving it from God’s Table in order to feed God’s hungry world. Amen.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School