A reflection on the readings for Proper 17A:Exodus 3:1-15, Romans 12:9-21. Matthew 16:21-28
I remember sitting on the counter in my grandmother’s kitchen, talking to my mother on the telephone. Outside the window it was a glorious sunny day, light bouncing off the rock bluffs, scrub trees and pine which define the beautiful mountains that surround the Salt Lake City Valley. I have no idea what my mom and I were talking about, just the usual topics for a five year old and her mom. Suddenly everything began to tremble. My grandmother had decorative soup ladles and dishes hanging on her kitchen walls and I watched them swing back and forth before they crashed to the floor. Perhaps a minute or two passed as the earth shook and things clattered. As far as I know this earthquake in Salt Lake City didn’t cause any wide spread damage, I’m not even sure it was strong enough to be news worthy, but it left an impression on me.
Years later I am the mother of a teen age daughter whose high school sweet heart has joined the army right after graduation. For the next four year we make several trips to visit this young man and support him through basic training, a couple of years of stateside service and then what we could do to support him during the fourteen months he was deployed to Afghanistan. One of our trips to visit him took us to Fayetteville, North Carolina. During that visit my son Peter and I ventured out on our own, leaving Jessi and her boyfriend to wander the shopping malls and visit with friends. Peter and I drove from Fayetteville to Wilmington where we wandered the beach side landmarks of the Civil War, took a long walk up the beach, and had lunch at a fabulous seashore fish house. I remember the sand on this beach was the whitest sand, soft and fine, with lots of shells to collect. I think of that very beach today, ravaged now by hurricane Irene. And I think of all the people afflicted first by the earthquake that hit the east coast, and now by this massive storm.
Our life experiences, regardless of whether they are good experiences or difficult ones, provide the foundation for our ability to understand the joys and sufferings of others. Having experiences in common deepens our capacity for empathy and compassion.
Some Jewish Midrash, which is the process by which rabbis wrestle with stories from the torah, suggest that Moses had to learn about compassion and empathy before he could become the leader of the Hebrew people.
Last week, as our Old Testament reading moved from Genesis to Exodus, we heard the story of Moses’ birth and his subsequent adoption by the Pharaoh’s daughter. In the chapters between last week and the reading this morning Moses has grown up, privileged in the Pharaoh’s home, and yet he knows that he is a Hebrew, not an Egyptian. As a young adult Moses tries to establish friendships with other Hebrews but his rejected. He witnesses an Egyptian beating a Hebrew man and in the process of defending the Hebrew man Moses kills the Egyptian. And for this he runs away and ends up in the countryside, tending sheep and marrying the daughter of the man who owns the flock. It’s while tending sheep that he encounters the burning bush in our reading from this morning. Over and over Moses will learn about human nature, about humility, about following God, and of developing compassion through the challenges life throws our way.
This same theme is echoed in the reading this morning in Romans and the Gospel – we are to show compassion for all people. Our ability to love as God loves comes from our life experiences, which form in us the capacity for compassion.
True, our life experiences can also form in us the capacity to be angry and bitter, always complaining, and never able to give others the benefit of the doubt. We have choices in how we respond to what life deals us. As we move through the Exodus story we will hear how Moses points the way to compassion and faithful living. Paul in his letter to the Romans reminds the congregation to: 9Let love be genuine…. 10love one another with mutual affection; …extend hospitality to strangers. ….15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another…. And Jesus helps us understand this further with his call that we pick up our cross and follow him. Jesus doesn’t say to pick up his cross and be Jesus, he says to follow him bearing our own crosses – regardless of what life has dealt us to become people who ground our lives in love and compassion for ourselves and for others.
To this end I invite us into a week of prayer from Sept. 5 through Sept. 11. Our Presiding Bishop has asked that churches leave their doors open so that all may come and pray. Pray with the intent of transforming the events of Sept. 11 into a mission of unity and hope. So we will offer a special Eucharist on Monday, Sept. 5, Labor Day, at 10am, followed by a self-led all day prayer vigil. We invited the Dearborn police department and fire department and Mayors office to feel to free to come and pray any time during the vigil. You may come on that Monday for a short while or a long time. We will have booklets available with a variety of prayers for you to pick and choose from, or to pray through the entire booklet.
We will also have, next Sunday, a booklet to take home, with daily prayers for individuals and families. Prayers for morning, noon, the evening meal, and bedtime, which you are invited to use, particularly, during the week leading up to the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
Sunday of 9/11 there will be a variety of local opportunities available such as a vigil at the Henry Ford Museum at 6:30pm, and opportunities for work with WISDOM and outreach missions of Detroit – the details will be in our newsletter.
Both booklets contain prayers from the Book of Common Prayer as well as prayers from the New Zealand Prayer book and other faith traditions. Prayers that invite us to see the divine working in and through the world, calling us to live lives of peace, of love, of compassion. Here is one such prayer: