St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Pentecost 14 2017 Sermon
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Jim Campbell

Jesus said in the Gospel today, “When two or three are gathered together in My name, I will be with them.”  Well, we have eight here today, so God is definitely with us!
 
This talk might be a bit out there for some of you, but I hope it makes some points that need to be said about who God likely is and isn’t.
 
 
So, what did you think about these readings today?  I heard a lot of singling out of some people as special and allowing judging of others as the official Christian process to handle conflict (straight from Jesus’ words in the Bible). 
 
I’m going to begin first with the Gospel reading from Matthew.  Jesus explained that first one should go to another who has “wronged them” one-on-one and explain the issue and try to get them to understand and apologize and make things right.  If this somehow actually comes out well, then that person is still “in the community”.  If not, get 2 or 3 others and confront that person as a group.  If this doesn’t work, then put the offender in front of the whole community to be dealt with, and if they do not “repent”, then they are “cast out” and treated like the tax collectors (today that might be lawyers!).
 
In our Bible study this week, Mary said she did not believe that Jesus actually said this, because it seems so crazy a process, and not a good way to handle conflict.  (Note, Paul had a similar message to one of his Christian communities when it was clear they were having conflicts among themselves.)   My view is that this process can be abused to allow purging out anyone not like the rest of the community (the “in group”), using the Bible as one’s authority to do so.  And of course it assumes that the accusing person actually has something worth bringing up to the accused, rather than just whining about little things or just not liking the person.
 
 
Today in Exodus we get Moses and Aaron telling the people how to prepare for the coming of God’s vengeance on their Egyptian masters, because they have been told that it is coming by God.  Our Bible study had an interesting discussion about what was to be called The Passover ritual, especially around what a lintel is, and how can someone eat food that has been roasted whole this way. Or that it is a lamb, and how can you eat a cuddly animal like this.  And there is the re-creation in the epic 1956 movie The Ten Commandments, with Charlton Heston as Moses during this Passover time telling all the Jews to perform this rite, and they comply and stay inside their homes while the plague of God comes and outside there is somehow instantly crying and wailing over the first born Egyptians dying everywhere.  Pretty dramatic!
 
God again clearly singled out the Jewish people, his chosen, over others, although he had supposedly watched as they were slaves for 400 years in Egypt.  Somehow that does not seem right, but that is the story as it was verbally passed down and then written down about a thousand years later.  One would think that their God would be more on top of things and not let them suffer so long.   Anyway, they do get to leave Egypt and eventually get to Israel, as you will hear in the coming weeks.
 
 
With the horrible hurricanes Harvey and Irma happening the past two weeks (and maybe soon Jose), the super powerful 8.1 earthquake in southern Mexico this week, and the unprecedented fires in the western US and Canada this summer, it is easy to wonder what is going on.  I did not even mention that we are having other events like this around the world on at least a weekly basis, if one really checks the news carefully.  China, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and on and on.  These things do happen.  But when they happen to us here more locally and it affects us or those we care about, it feels even more powerful and harrowing to us.
 
For many years (maybe several decades even!) we have heard from various church leaders about how these events are signs of the “end times”, or are examples of God’s wrath on certain groups of people he has decided are not following his laws and are not worthy of living. We even hear more secularly that Barack Obama is causing this, using these humongous weather machines to control these events for his climate change agenda.  Or that Rush Limbaugh said this week that hurricane Irma was a media hoax to get new sensational news stories to sell; never mind that Rush was upset because he could not get the supplies he needed in Palm Beach FL because the stores were empty, or that he evacuated like everyone else.
 
Let’s be real clear about all of this!  These mostly natural occurrences (even some of the fires!) do happen, and are not events sent by God to go after people in Houston who supported a lesbian mayor for 8 years (and who is not even in office now!).  They were not sent to kill people and destroy their homes in the West because they are too liberal and too wealthy.  They are not sent to destroy civilization in the Atlantic Ocean because of poor people or people vacationing there who act in ungodly ways, or in the SE US because they are not all of White European descent (and may even be illegal immigrants) or are just very poor and do not deserve to live.
 
The more likely thing happening here is that we have added on to what already are events that could happen by not using the brains that God gave us to take care of the earth and use its resources wisely.  Yes, this is somewhat about climate change and man’s role in making it worse.  But it is also about how we ignore what we are being told by learned scientists who study this all the time and know way more than we ever could, and instead we just keep doing things to make all of this worse. 
 
(An example of how we actually did something wise as a nation once would be what happened after seeing all of the air and water pollution back in the 1960s and 1970s. The Great Lakes and major city harbors and rivers were choked with water pollution, there were awful sites like places like Love Canal in NY, choking air pollution in our major cities like NY, Los Angeles, and so on. Closer to home, Puget Sound and Lake Washington and Lake Union water pollution, Gas Works Park on Lake Union was a toxic waste site, the smelter industry pollution of the air in Tacoma.  We cracked down on emissions standards for cars and industries and disposing of waste properly, totally changing the situation at that time.  Far less air pollution in our major cities, no more burning rivers, way less pollution in our water areas and way less Superfund waste sites to deal with—for a while!  God did not fix it for us—we did it as a nation.)
 
I do have a point here around this singling out issue, and that is we need to stop allowing this to happen in our world and around us, and begin to work together to make things better everywhere for everyone.  We do not get to use God as our excuse for allowing this singling out of others (You know, God did it for the Jews, and we are just following the Bible now as His Christian followers.)—no more scapegoating and blaming and shaming. 
 
Basically the message should be what the 5 former US presidents have said in their latest campaign to get help for the victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the One America Appeal, basically, “We are all in this together!”
 
 

 
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