October 12, 2014 – One in Mission

Exodus 17:1-7

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah – testing – and Meribah – quarreling – because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Exodus 17:8-13

Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword.

 

Philippians 1:27-2:5

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well—since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…

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Pentecost 18   October 12, 2014   Psalms 95-96, Exodus 17:1-7, 8-13; Philippians 1:27-2:5   One in Mission

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There’s days when I identify with Moses. Not at all meaning I’m able to smack a rock and have water come out of it. But meaning (as in our second reading–) a bit exhausted – needing to sit down, let others hold my arms up…while I watch the battle below.

There’s more days when I identify with Aaron and Hur. Days when my work is to hold others up in prayer. And maybe help with some of the work they do…

There’s even days when I identify with Joshua – more often, with one of the rank-and-file soldiers with him, fighting Amalekites in pitched battle…

Whatever kind of day it is, whomever I’m identifying with in the story – I try to remember… The outcome of the physical battle… is still determined on the spiritual battlefield…

And we’re all this battle together. Moses’ staff raised high is a metaphor for the power of God… And for the unity of Israel. The staff of Moses reminds Israel of the power of God, made visible, time after time – in Moses striking the River Nile with the staff, it’s waters turning to blood – in Moses stretching out his hands, clasping this staff, as God parts the Red Sea waters for Israel to pass through – in Moses, at God’s command, striking the rock in the desert (just now) – and waters for thirsty Israel pouring forth out of the rock… In these and many other instances, God’s power is made known through the staff of Moses.

The staff (of course) isn’t magic. The staff is only a symbol of God’s power… And a symbol of Israel’s mission journey. But as long as the staff of Moses is held high, Israel prevails. And whenever Moses’ weary hands let the staff drop low, the battle goes to the Amalekites…

The uplifted hands of Moses function as bodily prayer. Hands and staff lifted high channel divine energy. And as Moses tires, Aaron and Hur get him seated on a rock, while they hold Moses’ arms up high… And as the sun goes down, the battle goes to Israel… To God, actually, who has told Israel a few chapters ago (14) “the Lord will fight for you – only be still…” Now God again is fighting for Israel, but now Israel’s expected to give God a hand. Joshua and soldiers on the ground – Moses, Aaron, Hur on the hill – each have their part to play. But what’s decisive, clearly, is the holding up of the staff…Our tangible reminder of the power of God… Source and guide of our mission journey…

Biblical history note: This attack by Amalekites on Israel is unprovoked and malicious, Deuteronomy 25 tells us. Amalekites deliberately targeted the sick, the weak, the frail, the elderly, at the rear of Israel’s convoy. Reminding us terrorism isn’t new. It’s been around since the fall. This is the very first battle of the Exodus journey (and almost of the whole bible – there’s a skirmish in Genesis 14, but this is the first time Israel is in battle). This is also the first time we meet Joshua, who eventually takes over as leader from Moses. Joshua’s picked out by Moses to lead Israel’s ragtag forces. Israelites were slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years, so they probably had only very primitive weapons, and like the embattled farmers of Lexington and Concord, they were not trained soldiers. But the bible makes clear the real fight’s happening, not on the physical battle field – but on the battle field of prayer.

And as we consider applications in contemporary context, Ephesians 6 tells us our fight’s no longer against blood and flesh enemies – it’s against powers, rulers, and authorities of spiritual evil in the heavenly realms. Put on the whole armor of God, therefore, we’re told – the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, gospel shoes, the helmet of salvation, with the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit in hand… Psalm 78 also tells us the whole exodus story’s a parable. (It may not have been a parable at the time, but it is a parable now, scripture teaches.) And the real battle now is to keep ourselves focused, hearts and minds lifted in prayer and praise to God. Helping each other also in mutual support – because –

Our battles now are different – yet every bit as predictable as in the days of Exodus. When we’re actively engaged in Christian life, stuff’s going to happen. The apostle Paul tells the Philippian church they and he are still in the same struggle they’ve seen him in all along. The church knows Paul and Silas were thrown in jail in Philippi in fact, just a few days after they, and Lydia (who welcomed the apostles into her house) and a few other women co-founded the Philippian church. (Acts 16 tells that story.) Indeed, Paul’s in and out of jail all through his career as an apostle. That’s where we get the song, Paul and Silas, bound in jail, had nobody to go their bailKeep your eyes on the prize, hold on…

Paul’s writing to the Philippians from a prison cell. He and other Christian leaders were often in jail, simply for telling the world Jesus is Lord – and the emperor is not. (That’s still a jail-able offense in most empires.) When we’re following Jesus, we too will experience opposition, struggles, even sufferings, all because we are not conforming to the world around us…and it’s expectations. And the word of God tells us plainly how to be prepared for whatever struggles come:

First, remember, the battle belongs to God – and our strategy always needs to start and end with calling on God in prayer and listening…

Second, we’re reminded – when we’re very tired, don’t delay – call on God and call on each other also for help. Help will be there. All Christians are commanded by Jesus to love and support one another. It’s not just a suggestion.

Third, and like unto the second – yes, faith is about me and Jesus – you and Jesus. But Christian faith is even more about all of us together with Jesus. How we live our lives is partly personal – me and Jesus, you and Jesus. But how we live our lives – what we do and don’t do – is also, even more so – about all of us together in Jesus. We’re all one in mission. We all depend on one another.

Our faith is not one-size-fits-all. We don’t all have to squish our personalities into a mold and try to look and think alike. But Christian faith is about One-Mission-Fits-All. The mission of Jesus and his kingdom is the one mission in which we’re all called to base our lives. The mission in which we’re all called to make sacrifices, put others first, adjust our lives in many ways… Christian faith is not one-size-fits-all. But – we’re all in one mission together.

I’ve been remembering back to Church of All Nations in Boston, where I spent time in seminary. One of our members (I’ll call Camille), was having severe pain from advanced cancer. She asked for prayers… Some of us went over to visit her with her family in Mattapan. One woman in our group had the gift of healing prayer. She laid hands on Camille. The rest of us – more than a dozen, maybe closer to twenty, all either laid hands on Camille, or those of us further back laid hands on the shoulders of Elizabeth. We loved Camille. Her cancer was not considered curable, but we believed her pain could be relieved. Our prayers were pretty intense. I remember feeling tired after ten or fifteen minutes in prayer…

After prayers, Camille did feel better (and continued to feel better for months afterwards)… I remember her heartfelt thank you’s…

But what I especially remember now, was how Elizabeth, the woman with the gift of healing prayer, thanked us all for laying hands on, and praying with her. She could feel, she said, God’s power working through all of us together. Her gifts for healing prayer, and all the healing given by God, were all focused, accentuated, and extended by the whole group praying together.

Much like with Moses, Aaron, and Hur on the hillside – and Joshua and his troops on the battlefield below….Much like in the churches St Paul is writing to. Read the whole letter to the Philippians. It’s very short. Notice Paul thanking the church from the heart for offerings given for ministry, not just in their own church, but for the larger mission field also. Notice Paul thanking them most of all for sharing in all the daily sacrifices we all make for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And even though Paul’s writing from prison, reminding the church that suffering and struggle are part of our job description as Christians – he’s also telling us more than a dozen times in this short letter – about the joy we share in the one mission of Jesus and his kingdom… None of the struggles and sufferings we share in amount to much, Paul says, compared to the great joy we experience now… And the greater joy we’ll share in later…

We share in the joys and struggles of Jesus… Because we are all one in mission…

In the midst of all the ways we live out our ministries, we’re all united in one mission – following Jesus – all the way into his kingdom-come-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven – helping others always to follow him with us also.

Holding each other up in prayer…

As some tend the pumpkin patch for the Food Pantry… Some cook, some serve, some clean-up, some do special programs (like the UMW lunch yesterday).

Some prepare and serve coffee and snacks after church… Some visiting the sick and shut-ins… All of us practicing hospitality… All helping keep worship alive and vibrant…All of us one in mission.

All inviting neighbors, friends, and family to join us with this Jesus we’ve met, who loves us immeasurably, and wants us all to know it…

All of us called into the joyful rhythms of giving and receiving in Jesus Christ… Because in Him, we are all one in mission…

Thanks be to God. Amen.