Here are my thoughts for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, September 4, 2011. I will be at Dover Plains UMC; the service starts at 11 and you are welcome to attend. The Scriptures are Exodus 12: 1 – 14, Romans 13: 8 – 14, and Matthew 18: 15 – 20.
I will also be at Grace UMC in Newburgh for the final Sunday of the Vespers in the Garden series. We will start at 7 pm and you are welcome to attend as well.
There is something intriguing about this particular Sunday. There is in the Old Testament reading for today a celebration, a celebration that we understand in the context of an organized religious practice but, as we read today, began as a family gathering. And the calendar tells us that we are or should be celebrating the American worker and his or her role in the building of this country. There is also the looming shadow of next week before us as well.
I say that it is a looming shadow because I am certain that while speaker after speaker, preacher and politician alike, will speak of the honor, courage and sacrifice of countless individuals, there will also be those who call for more sacrifice. But I fear that the call for sacrifice will be from those who have already sacrificed while others who have gained and profited from the ten years of war will continue to contribute nothing to the effort. And with countless families being threatened with home foreclosures and the loss of work, with countless workers being told they must take pay cuts and a reduction in benefits for the sake of the company, all the time while company after company reports record profits and jobs are exported overseas I am not entirely sure that we need to hear those words this time.
There seems to be a mentality in today’s society that runs completely counter to the words spoken by Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. We are more than willing to confront those who oppose us but not in the style and manner that Jesus said; we want the confrontation, we want the chance to strike at our enemies and banish them from this world. We are not comfortable with the notion that maybe there is a solution in ways other than violence and war. There are alternatives to violence and war and yet we are not willing to look for them.
And if what is said between two individuals is eternal, be it a yes or a no, then we must choose our words carefully. When Patrick Henry rose before the Virginia House of Burgesses on March 23, 1775, he began the speech, for which he is best known by first saying,
We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.
Yes, Patrick Henry would argue for war but his argument for war came from the evidence that was before him.
Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace– but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field!
But we entered a war ten years ago on our own. We have elected to walk a path that was fed by lies and deceit, not truth. We had a chance to do it right but we did not. And now we are paying the price. We have bought into the rhetoric of those who see power in the same way that the Egyptians and Romans controlled the Israelites, through slavery and oppression.
Countless individuals have accepted the argument espoused by corporation and political bigwigs that union rules work against them. History tells us what it was like for the American worker before there were unions. History also tells us that corporations have always used the notion that unionization would work against the best interests of the worker. Excuse me if I sound a bit cynical but I get the impression that we are going to bring back the good old days when twelve-year olds worked in the mills and the mines. And let us not forget that one of the reasons for the Passover Feast was to remind the people of the life they had lead in Egypt before the exodus; a life as slaves.
It is not that I have anything against corporations. After all, there has to be some sort of organization in order for individuals to have jobs. But, when the interests of the corporation overshadow the interests of the workers who toil for the corporation then there is something severely wrong in this country. I am reminded that John Wesley had nothing against anyone earning as much as they possibly could but it was not to be earned through the oppression of the worker. And John Wesley made it abundantly clear that though one could earn as much as they could, they were to save as much as they could and then give away as much as they could.
But we have bought into the words of the hucksters and the scammers, politician and preacher alike that the best possible outcome is to have it all. And then once we have it all, we are to keep it for ourselves. In our efforts to earn as much as we can, we somehow have forgotten those two other conditions.
I am not enough of a Wesleyan scholar to know the basis for Wesley’s financial statement but I am sure part of it comes from Paul’s words to the Romans, especially the part about not running up debts and then making sure that you are not absorbed and exhausted by day-to-day obligations. When the focus becomes such that we are more concerned with the day-to-day stuff, it is quite possible that we lose track of things far more important, such as family and home.
So maybe we should think again about that time when families gathered together and prepared a feast to remember. Let us remember that it was the Methodist Church, following John Wesley’s example that brought about a revolution that saved England and brought about true social reform. This will come as a shock to many who see the church in terms of a fortress with iron gates and a moat that will protect them from the evil of the world around them.
But what did the Israelites put on their door to protect them from the Angel of Death, sent by God, the night of that First Passover? It was the blood of the sacrificed lamb. We don’t need to mark our doors as they did because Jesus died on the cross for that very same reason. The blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, will protect us if we are willing to accept Him as our Savior.
But we must be willing to put aside our worldly concerns and live for Christ. This is what Paul wrote to the Romans; this is what John Wesley discovered that night in the chapel on Aldersgate Street. It is that opportunity for a new beginning that we are offered at this moment, this time, and this place. Three thousand years ago, the Israelite nation began its journey from slavery to independence. It was a new beginning for them. Today, through Christ, we are offered the same opportunity to escape slavery, slavery from sin and death, and have a new beginning, a new life. That is something worth celebrating.