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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Pentecost 10 – Year A

In her sermon last week, Carmen walked us through the story of Joseph and his brothers – Joseph (Jacob’s beloved son) sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous older brothers only to rise from slavery to become Pharaoh’s right hand man and in an ironic twist of fate save his brothers and the entire family of Israel from starving to death. At the end of that story Joseph brings all of the Israelites into Egypt and gives them lands to farm and homes to live in. The people of Israel thrive.
Our lesson for today opens many generations later. The people of Israel are numerous and prosperous in Egypt. But Joseph is long dead and there is a new Pharaoh who has no sympathy for these Israelites. In fact, they threaten him. Their population has grown so large that Pharaoh fears their collective power. So, as has often been the case with Jews throughout history, he ghettoizes the Israelites and turns them into a nation of slave laborers. But even this does not seem to slow their growth. In desperation, Pharaoh orders that all male children born to the Israelites are to be killed. The girl babies will be spared but the boys are to be put to death.
In the scene we glimpse this morning an Israelite mother, frantic to save the life of her son places him in a papyrus basket, think a paper boat, and floats him down the Nile River. She would rather let him go and perhaps drown, she would rather turn his life over to an unknown fate, than to see him murdered by the Egyptians. This mother’s name, not recorded in our lesson, was Jochebed and the child set adrift in the papyrus basket was Moses. Found by the daughter of Pharaoh, Moses grows to become Egyptian royalty. More importantly, as the child of slaves, he also becomes the leader of the Israelites and God’s prophet who will save his people from slavery in Egypt.
I try to imagine what Jochebed must have felt as she watched that paper basket drift away from her on the currents of the Nile. She was faced with a terrible choice – watch her son be killed or give him up to an unknown future. If she kept him he was certain to die. If she let him go there was a chance, a slight chance, that he might be found and saved.
On the one hand, as I think about Jochebed it’s hard to relate. Blessedly, none of us has ever had to face the threat of infanticide at the hands of a cruel despot. It is a terrifying prospect. On the other hand, I know all of us understand what it means to love someone and have to let them go. All of us know what it means to give someone up to a future beyond our control. I think about all the parents in recent weeks who are taking their children to college for the first time. For eighteen odd years they have loved and cared for their children and now they begin the process of letting them go to build their own lives. As a parent, it is exciting to see your children step out on their own after you have done all that you can to raise them well. At the same time, once they leave home life will never be quite the same, the family will never be the quite the same and there is often a deep grief that goes along with this exciting new beginning.
In a similar way, I think about all the adult children who are doing all they can to support their parents as their parent’s health fails. As I try to look after my mother in health care at Westminster Canterbury, I know how hard it is to face the reality that sooner rather than later I will have to let her go. A parent’s love is a special thing but just as they had to set us free to create our own lives, at some point we are forced to let them go from this life into the next.
The truth is we can’t really love without also facing the reality of loss. Loss is the price of love. Whether it is Moses in a papyrus basket, a child leaving home for the first time, or a parent moving from this life to the next one, sooner or later we have to let go of the people we love. It is a painful reality and there are those who would rather avoid love than experience the loss of love. But to love another person, to really love someone else is also to gain the world, because love is what makes life worth living.
A fundamental belief of our faith is that God is love. God is the source and author of all love. As such that means if God loves us then God also has to let us go, God has to let us be free. We see this in our gospel reading for this morning. In a passage pivotal for Matthews Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples who people say he is. They reply that some think he is John the Baptist come back to life or perhaps one of the great prophets reincarnated like Elijah or Jeremiah. But Jesus presses them further and asks the really important question, “But who do you say that I am?” It’s impetuous Peter who steps out and responds, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Have you ever wondered why Jesus just doesn’t tell them who he is? Why does he ask them? At this point in his ministry his disciples have been traveling with him for more than a year. Don’t you think Jesus would have explained to them who he was and why he had come. And yet, this reading seems to show that Jesus hasn’t told them anything. It’s more like he has been waiting and hoping that they would figure it out for themselves.
Because God loves us – therefore God creates us to be free; therefore God never forces anything on us. Like a parent with a child, God desires good things for us and yearns for us to be the best people we can be. But because God loves us, God will never force us to be anything other than free. Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples who he is. He doesn’t try to convince them, lecture them, or control them. Jesus simply loves them hoping they will be able to see the truth for themselves. That is why Peter’s confession is such a big deal. It’s the moment Jesus has been waiting for. Do his friends get it? They are free to accept him or reject him, understand or misunderstand him. Do they see the truth?
And so it is with you and me. We are not the only ones who have to cope with the reality that we lose the ones we love the most. Loss is a part of love for you and me but it is also a part of love for God. God will always love us just the way Jochabed loved Moses, just the way we love our children and our parents. But God will never force us to love God back. It has to be our choice or it isn’t really love. God makes us free. God will always love us but we are free to walk away, free to not get it, free to proclaim Christ or free to ignore him completely.
The old cliché says that if you love something then you have to let it go. It may be a cliché but it’s true. Whether by force or by choice or because a life has run its course, at some point to love means to let go. We were born free but our Lord Jesus Christ came to show us the way home. It’s up to us to decide whether or not we want to go. Amen.

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