The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
23 August 2020
Exodus 1.8 - 2.10
Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labour. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labour. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.’ But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?’ The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’ So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.’
Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him for three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.
The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. ‘This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,’ she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?’ Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Yes.’ So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, ‘because’, she said, ‘I drew him out of the water.’
If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
— let Israel now say —
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
the raging waters.
Blessed be the Lord,
who has not given us
as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
O God, you declare your almighty power
most chiefly in showing mercy and pity:
mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace,
that we, running the way of your commandments,
may receive your gracious promises,
and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
God of glory,
the end of our searching,
help us to lay aside
all that prevents us from seeking your kingdom,
and to give all that we have
to gain the pearl beyond all price,
through our Saviour Jesus Christ.
“Weep if you must,
Parting is hell,
But life goes on,
So sing as well.”
The well-known closing lines from Joyce Grenfell’s poem, often read at funerals, are appropriate for today, I feel.
Only, of course, singing can only be in our own home, or perhaps in the car, right now. Maybe just as well. I remember trying to join the choir for an Advent season. It was not a great success, and best not repeated.; although I LOVE to sing! But love alone does not make you a good singer, or a choir member. Luckily it turned out that I had some other gifts…
And that is what St Paul is wanting to gently point out to his Roman readers in our Epistle reading. Everyone has their area where they can do most good. Some of us can sing. Some of us can play the organ beautifully, like Christine, or another instrument, like Pandy. Some of us can teach. Some of us can – sort of – preach. Some of us can speak truth to power – that is, they can prophecy – and some of us can “minister”, says St Paul, whatever we understand by that term. We are members of Christ’s body, he says. All are equally valuable, all are necessary, but not all are the same. So, my gentle challenge to you, as I leave, is – what is your gift? How can you best be an effective ‘member’ of Christ’s body?
“Parting is hell.” Yes, I’m not finding this easy. You have all been part of my family, my Church Family, all these years. From first starting to attend church in fits and starts, then evermore regularly, to getting more and more involved in prayer, worship and leading. All the small acts of kindness, of encouragement, of support, and yes, of love, that you have given me over the years. They add up. They matter, more than you think.
I hope I have been able to give something in return. Because I do care for all of you. You matter to me. This is why parting is so difficult. To be able to go to a new place we have to leave something, some people behind.
I have been in a sort of limbo this summer, just as you have and still are, in the interregnum, and maybe in your lives as well, as we do not know what Covid will do next. My Ordination, which you would all have been so warmly welcome to attend, did not go ahead at the end of June, as was planned. Now it will hopefully happen at the end of September, but with minimal amounts of guests, only my family and one or two more.
Hence, I will be leaving you as a lay person, really no different from when I joined you, and yet so very different! The grey hair, for one!!
No, but jokes aside, God, with your able help, has made me grow and change and, sort of, expand (and I’m not only referring to the waistline here) – as all are capable of and as all are invited to do. God wants to transform each one of us. He has a task for us, often unknown to us ourselves, which he wants us to discover and to perform, but more than that, he wants us to grow into the full person, the authentic person, the true person that we have the capacity to be.
Look at our Gospel reading. Jesus chooses Peter out of all the disciples to be the foundation for his Church. Peter. Rash, clumsy Peter. Overexcited Peter. Slightly dense Peter. Was there really no one else? But Jesus sees what others could not. He sees a man as a rock. Dependable, solid. Loyal. And yet, Peter went on to deny him three times!
So, it’s clearly not because we are perfect that God wants us on his team. No one is more surprised than I, that I now leave you to become a Curate in Benenden and Sandhurst. Who had anticipated that? Not me, that’s for sure.
I remember when I did the training to take funerals as a lay person. As the discussion came about what I should wear, it was decided that I ought to have a cassock. On the order form you could indicate if you wanted your cassock to be able to take a dog collar. I ticked an emphatic ‘NO’, as I was sure I would never become a priest! If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans, as the old Jewish proverb says….
That dog collar, will it change me? It will certainly change how others see me. For good or for ill, people have a view on ‘Vicars’, or people in Holy Orders. They have expectations, prejudices, preconceived ideas, which no one could live up to. But knowing this, there is also a temptation to dismiss it. “I’m just a regular guy, or girl”. That’s not true either. The dog collar says something. Something about the trust that will be placed in me by the Church, but ultimately by God, and the trust that people should be able to have, when they meet me.
You don’t wear a dog collar. But maybe you wear a cross? How often have I met people, clocked that they wear a cross, and felt immediately reassured, or connected? They will ‘get it’. They will be sympathetic. They will be kind. Of course this is not true of every Christian, just as it is not true of every priest, but that is my expectation. And often it has been proved to be right. So, when we wear a cross, or a collar, it is both a privilege and an obligation.
“Life goes on”. Yes, it does. There will be many reasons to miss each other, but many more to meet up again. I will still be living at Madrona Nursery, and I will still be running both the Nursery and my design business. You can always come and find me there. The tea urn is on and fruit cake is served! After three years of Curacy we will see what happens – God has a plan, that’s all I know, and I do fully trust that it’s a good one.
“Weep if you must”. All who know me know that I’m a little bit lachrymose. I easily well up. I’m sentimental. As the Germans say: I’m “built close to water”. At first, I saw this as a great barrier to ministry. How could I possibly sit by the bedside, or talk to the bereaved, if my eyes filled up? But, as I prepared to go in front of the Bishops’ Panel, I had to accept that this is part of who I am. And as soon as I accepted it, it became much less of a problem.
My role model here is Gundolf (or Gundulf), one time Bishop of Rochester in the 11th century. He was a very holy man, and a very capable one. A monk from Bec in Normandy, he came to England following the Conquest. As Bishop, he transformed the landscape around him, building several important castles and both the White Tower of the Tower of London and Rochester Cathedral. He was also known as a real cry baby! Only, in Gundolf’s time this seems to have had a different take-up. Crying was seen as a sign of holiness and of deep connection to God. The fact that Gundolf would cry at Mass twice a day just made him more admired! So, if, like me, you feel like weeping, just think of Gundolf. If it was good enough for him, it’s OK for us too!
In our Old Testament reading from Isaiah, God promises to transform Zion, to make her wilderness like Eden and her desert like the Garden of the Lord. In that garden will be found “joy and gladness, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” This time is a little bit like the desert and the waste places – featureless, indeterminate, unknown. But God’s promise holds here as well. He will transform our desert time, and our waste places into a flowering garden, filled with song.
Church and village will be brought to life again. Singing will return. This is a promise from God that we can trust. But also, we can let God transform us, here where we find ourselves, and make our desert flourish, perhaps watered with tears, but full of unexpected flowers!
If I Should Go
If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
Nor when I'm gone speak in a Sunday voice
But be the usual selves that I have known
Weep if you must
Parting is Hell
But life goes on
So sing as well.