“Jesus shows us how to live in God — freeing us to stand against all that stands against love.”
Sermon preached at All Saints Church on Celebration of Ministries Sunday, September 24, 2017, by Sally Howard.
Welcome to Celebration of Ministry Sunday! This is the Sunday here at All Saints Church when we recognize God’s presence in our lives and in our hearts, the deep abiding love that stirs us to care for each other, and to offer ourselves for the healing of this world. This Sunday always follows immediately after homecoming because coming home to each other in love, we feel such deep gratitude for each other, and joy in God’s embrace. This leads us to pour that love back into the world, as the most soul-satisfying way to express our appreciation!
And our world needs so much healing! So much light needed in places of gathering darkness; we need hands that knit shawls and wrap presents for children in foster care. We need feet that walk to city hall and march in solidarity with dreamers threatened by deportation. We need ears to hear the cries of those without shelter, and those whose shelter’s are prison walls. We need bodies willing to “take a knee for America”—like Stevie Wonder last night at the Global Citizens Festival in central park—“kneeling in prayer for our planet, our future, our leaders of the world.” The urgent needs are too many to list and the needs are great!
But my friends, we are here today because God is greater. God’s inexhaustible love is far greater and more powerful than all the darkness the world has to offer. God is active in our world to heal us and to empower us to heal each other. We celebrate today because you have the courage to listen to your hearts and then to live trusting in the goodness and generosity of God. You have faith that God’s fierce desire to turn the human race into the human family will succeed. You are ministers of beloved community, created in communion, by communion, and for communion. You have the commitment to work on yourselves and with each other to become this beloved community—a community that brings those on the margins to the center so that we can all sit at the welcome table.
I celebrate today because there are so many ways that you have lived out your ministry to others that have helped me find my own path—here to the place where my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. You have supported my journey toward freedom and joy only found by doing whatever God draws each of us uniquely to do. Your ministries have enlarged my vision of God. Thank you for empowering me to take risks.
And boy have I needed that. When I’ve felt diminished (buffeted) by fear or pain or loss, you’ve given me comfort and assurance of God’s presence. When I’ve been distracted, you have reminded me that my truest self thrives when I abide in God’s presence. When I’ve been discouraged, your courage has given me hope. We all need each other in order to be our best selves and to live out who we most deeply are. We need each other so that our image of God doesn’t get too small.
I love this reading from the Exodus story for that reason. Like this glorious celebration of ministry, it reminds me that we swim in an endless sea of mercy. God’s love never deserts us. We can trust God to take care of us, even when our journeys take us into the unknown or into the arid wilderness of life. The goodness of God fills all the gaps of the universe, without discrimination or measure. God sees beyond our fears and our mistakes, to our needs.
Just to remind you, in this story, the people of Israel have only a month before been freed from the slavery of Egypt. Pharaoh has ordered them to go and they have crossed the Red Sea unharmed, into the wilderness. There is no more brutal extraction of forced labor, no more threat of infanticide. But even though Miriam has danced and the people have hope for a promised land, they are in a state of post-traumatic stress.
And the desert is a very dangerous place. No one goes there unless the home you are coming from has chased you out. This land is strange; the children are crying and it’s hard to sleep. Provisions are running low. People are hungry and afraid. Moses can’t tell them how long it’s going to take to get to their destination, because he doesn’t even know where it is.
In this foreboding land, the people begin to lose faith, doubting the goodness of God, doubting their leader, doubting their own choices. Years of oppression and trauma have impacted their ability to imagine a future better than the scarcity of the past. Trauma injures the capacity to dream. They complain, murmuring discontent and fear. God responds not with anger or punishment, but compassion. God is humble and patient. Our God is a God of the gaps who makes use of everything we offer and seems most grateful for the smallest bit of response from our side. God sees beyond the complaints of the people to their fears and vulnerabilities. God responds with tender mercy and abundant provision for their journey. The people of Israel experience a God who is greater—in mercy, in compassion and graciousness…a God who is steadfast in love, tenaciously faithful, and forgiving. And gradually, they learn to trust God’s generosity and in turn, they grow in their capacity to care for the vulnerability of others. God teaches them patience and hospitality.
And isn’t that true with us? But the expansive heart of God is immeasurably larger than we can imagine, especially when we are traumatized. We can find it hard to believe in things we did not choose or create ourselves. We can doubt, deny, and reject our belovedness, and that limits our ability to love others. God’s unaccountable gratuity is beyond our control and that can make us uncomfortable because we aren’t the source. We want to control and conform God’s favor to our vision of what and who is worthy of it. We can over attribute our blessings to our personal efforts and over attribute those excluded from privilege to lack of theirs’. Our image of God can get very tiny, and so can our hearts, if were not awake to the great economy of grace.
Which brings us to today’s gospel. Nothing in this parable suggests that the characters hired late in the day are irresponsible or lazy. More likely, they are unwanted or denied access due to the prejudices of their society. Who in our city spends the whole day waiting to be hired? Those who are undocumented, those who have been incarcerated, the infirm, the disabled. Maybe the elderly, too.
God’s economy of Divine unmerited generosity requires a political economy based on something more than the standard of a fixed wage per hour. God’s economy is based on the workers’ needs. That is, it recognizes that someone who is only employed for one hour out of ten still needs to pay 100% of the costs of feeding a family, not just 10% of those costs. The early morning hires in the parable did what they agreed to do and received what they needed. The five o’clock hires did what they agreed to do and received what they needed. The “economics of need” reflects the human-centered, and not wage-centered economy. Jesus says that is how the Reign of God works.
How starkly different from the politics of racial division expressed by our national leadership, which promises economic relief to struggling Americans by blaming those considered “other”, and kicking people out! Playing to hateful elements, the current president uses sharper language for NFL players kneeling in peaceful protest, than white supremacists carrying torches in Charlottesville.
Jesus chose to dwell in God, who is always greater, in God who “loves without measure and without regret.” He lived out his life trusting in the ultimate triumph of God’s purposes. It gave him freedom to stand against all that stands against love. Every act of Jesus’s ministry was an Exodus event– freeing the sick, the bound, the marginalized, the outcast–by the power of God’s love for each person and God’s loving intention for each to live as the person God has made them to be.
Jesus consecrated his Last Supper as a Freedom Meal to indicate that God continues to give us freedom from bondage to fear, injustice, violence, oppression, intimidation, prejudice, and every other sin and false god to which the dominating powers would have us submit – that includes the politics of fear and the fear of death. The very heart of Jesus’ ministry was to be a walking, living, breathing, embodied Exodus experience for everyone captive, bound, and oppressed.[i] And it is at the heart of our ministry too.
Exodus is our path into awareness of God’s love, grace, and providence. It is to take the journey of faith, trusting in the goodness and generosity of God. God’s love is far greater and more powerful than all the darkness the world has to offer. My friends, keep putting your lives on the side of hope! The longing of God to give us peace and assurance and a sense of well-being only awaits the alignment of our need with God’s limitless generosity. All Saints, today we gather to share the experience of God’s presence. May God’s great love give each of us the freedom to stand against all that stands against love. Let us each whole-heartedly commit to the unique ministry God has created us to live out! Amen!