Sunday, 24 August 2008

Subversion for the sake of the kingdom

Sunday 24th August 2008

Readings: Exodus 1 v 8-2 v 10
Matthew 16 v 13-20

After our trumpeting of Joseph’s achievements last week. His rise from prisoner to Pharaoh’s right hand man, today’s Old Testament reading begins with a few salutary words.
We read: Eventually a new king came to power in Egypt, one who knew nothing about Joseph.
That amazing story, that unlikely rise to power, forgotten in a generation as a new regime takes over.
And so the Prince of Egypt, all the good he achieved and all the gratitude the nation owed him, wiped out by the passage of time.
All the new ruler can see is that there are an awful lot of foreigners occupying his land, threatening to undermine his supremacy if push comes to shove.
And so begins the oppression of the people of Israel.
They are forced into slavery in an attempt to keep them in their place.
And then, when that isn’t enough, the new king orders that all new babies born in Israelite homes should be killed at birth.
And that is the cue for another, extremely unlikely set of heroes to step up to the mark and further God’s kingdom.
It begins with the midwives.
Midwives who “feared God”.
Having been a hospital chaplain I’ve come across a few midwives who feared God.
But I’ve come across many more midwives who would put the fear of God into you!
It must be something about the nature of their job that they have to be scary people.
Anyway, these two midwives we read about this morning are named: Shiphrah and Puah.
They were ordered to kill any baby boys born to the Hebrew women.
But, because they loved God, this was an order they didn’t obey.
Of course their disobedience did not go unnoticed.
When the number of Hebrew boys continued to rise, the midwives were summoned to explain this.
And I love their explanation.
It seems to me that they are actually mocking the king.
Their explanation that the Hebrew women give birth before they can get there seems to me to imply that the Egyptian women they also midwife are pampered and require their assistance much more.
However that slight appears to go over the kings head – maybe just as well for Shiphrah and Puah.
He orders that all new born Hebrew boys be thrown in the river.
Those midwives did not get into a moral argument with Pharaoh. They just carried on and did what they thought was right – more than that – they acted as God would want them to.
Quietly, without song or dance, they defied the Pharaoh and changed the history of a nation.
Because it was around that time that a Hebrew boy named Moses was born.
In Moses’ survival, we are witness to the actions of four more subersive women, each of whom did what they considered right – quietly, without fuss – going against all the rules and, by their actions making a huge difference.
Moses mother hid the baby until he grew too big for that.
Then she took him to the river and floated him in a waterproof basket, praying for a miracle.
Pharaoh’s daughter, out walking by the river saw the basket and ordered her maid to bring it to her.
Neither Pharaoh’s daughter or the maid chose to act in accordance with the Pharaoh’s decrees when they saw the baby.
The maid kept quiet about the baby’s origins and Pharaoh’s daughter sought ways to keep this baby as her own.
Enter subversive woman number 6 – Moses’ older sister Miriam.
She offered to find a wet nurse – a task that should be easy given all the Hebrew mothers whose babies had been torn from them.
And so Moses’ mother was allowed to nurse her son and, when he was weaned, take him back to the palace to be cared for.

Shiphrah, Puah, Moses’ mother, Moses’ sister, Pharaoh’s daughter and her maid.
6 women who by their passive disobedience made a huge difference in the course of the story of the Israelites.
6 women who did not preach or pontificate.
6 women who simply went against the rules, did what they thought was right and, by their actions, stood up to an oppressive regime and allowed love to intervene.

These women demonstrate that, often, we can go about our business, quietly doing what is right, not making a huge disturbance but more of a silent ripple that goes on causing a huge effect.
We can all, at times be active in subversion – for the sake of the kingdom.
I’m sure, this morning, many of us can think of folk we know who sometimes frustrate us by not acting as we think they should.
Folk who don’t stand and argue with us but whom we know are just going to disregard whatever we say anyway.
I have a reputation for that.
Of listening politely.
Of not putting up a fight.
But of going and doing what I feel is right anyway.
Its not that I don’t appreciate good advice.
Its not that I don’t respect other folks experience and knowledge.
But sometimes, you just have to try something for yourself, don’t you.
Sometimes, you have to even make your own mistakes.
If only there were more people willing, occasionally, to go against the flow, to quietly get on with what seems right – to make a difference.
God can use us quiet subversives just as much as the high profile protestors.
And that brings us to our gospel reading when Jesus checks out whether his disciples are “getting it”.
At this stage of his journey with them, Jesus knows that there is not much time left.
He seems to want to check how much of his message they have grasped.
So, he throws out a general question.
What’s the word on the street?
Who do folk say I am? Jesus asks them.
And the answers come back: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, a prophet.
Interesting answers – the word on the street.
But then Jesus pins them down:
Who do you say I am?
Who do you say I am?, asks Jesus.
I remember, what seems like a hundred years ago, when I was at college, one of our professors took this verse from Matthews gospel and told us he would give us an answer to Jesus question, Who do you say I am?
From what I can remember, his answer went something like this: Jesus is the proleptic, salvific, hidden appearance of the eschatological kingdom of God." Did you get that? "The proleptic, salvific, hidden appearance of the eschatological kingdom of God."
It was a systematic theology class.
And it makes even less sense to me now than it did then.
Can you imagine our gospel reading being rewritten this morning? "Jesus said to them, `Who do YOU say that I am?' Simon Peter replied, `You are the proleptic, salvific, hidden appearance of the eschatological kingdom of God.' Jesus answered and said unto him, `What???'"
Peter’s answer was much more straightforward but no less profound : You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.
On you, Peter, said Jesus, I will build my church.
And so it has been throughout the centuries – right up until today.
Jesus has relied on those who could say: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Christ has relied on those people to be building blocks in the church.
Its not enough simply to be able to say the words: You are the Christ. Our actions must show that we know who Jesus is.
And that’s where our strategy comes in.
Are we called to public profession or private subversion?
In the cause of the kingdom, both are required.
We must first be able to proclaim: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God and then our actions must reveal that belief.

Just the other week, I passed through Greenock just as one of the big cruise ships was leaving the container terminal.
She was a massive thing.
Not far from her, at anchor, were a couple of royal Navy ships, dwarfed by this big liner.
The Royal Navy ships must be pretty cramped compared to a cruise ship. They certainly wouldn’t have anything like the facilities on offer on the cruise ship.
I was a bit taken aback by the sheer difference in size.
Because, when push comes to shove, its those smaller more basic ships that we rely on to defend our nation.
Just as God relies on you and I, ordinary people, to confess that Jesus is Lord and to continue the work of building the church.
The problem is that too many folk in the church act as though they are on a cruise ship.
There are people who think church is about having their own personal needs met--their needs for fellowship, for worship, for spiritual growth and comfort. And, if one cruise ship doesn't measure up, that’s OK - they'll just look for one that does.
There are people who simply "come to church."
And there’s a difference between coming to church and being the church.
When you are the church then you take a different attitude. Instead of looking at the church as a place where you can have your needs met, you begin to look at church as a place where you can meet the needs of those for whom Christ died, those who are oppressed, those who hunger both physically and spiritually, those who are lonely and in pain.
Suddenly our cruise ship becomes more like a battle ship.
So if you are waiting to be entertained.
Or waiting for your pillows to be fluffed up, this is the wrong place for you.
Even if you do think you know who Jesus is.
Its not enough to claim you know.
You have to convert your knowledge into action.
When Peter said: You are the Christ the Son of the living God, Jesus said Well done!
But he also said: On you I will build my church.
The older version of the bible says: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
A force to be reckoned with.
Not a cosy club.
And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
And so the question comes to each of us this morning:
Jesus ask us: Who do you say I am?
May we be able to answer: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
But, more than that, may we then go on and be battle ships.
Quietly subversive or loudly protesting for the sake of the kingdom.
May we be the blocks on which Christ builds his church.
And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
For the glory of God.


RevDrKate said...

Awesome! Love the cruise ship/battle ship analogy.

mompriest said...

Liz, your sermon works well, not too going in too many different directions at all, engaging!

liz said...

I love you revgals. Thanks for taking the time to leave some encouragement.