August 30, 2020 – Exodus 3:1-15 and Matthew 16:21-28
July 21, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Neal Presa
I like the end of live theatrical performances when the actors appear one by one or in groups as the spectators are in standing ovation clapping and cheering. Then the protagonist(s) makes a final appearance as the whole company turns, takes two or three bows, then points to the orchestra so that everyone offers thanks and appreciation, and then points to us – the watching audience – at which we – the clapping spectators – rip with even more thunderous applause, and then the protagonist will point to the audience one last time before the whole company retreats to the sides of the stage and the crowds exit the theater. The protagonist(s) and the acting company seem to say, like with us preachers at the end of a worship service as we lift our arms in the orans position facing the congregation, “Now, it’s your turn.”
Our lectionary texts for this Sunday brings us to the point of Moses is being commissioned by God through the phenomenon of a burning bush to confront the powerful Pharaoh and to demand that the Egyptian ruler is to release the Israelites from his clutches or face the consequence of God’s power. Peter and the disciples are confronted with Jesus intent to head towards Jerusalem to his sure death. Peter tries to be the roadblock, to which Jesus berated him as a “stumbling block.” Jesus is preparing Peter and the disciples for what lies ahead, their lives after his departure, their lives formed at and by the cross: “If you want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
We, pastors and teachers of the Gospel alike, can testify of the sacrifices that we and our families have had to endure for the calling that we have responded to instead of other vocational options. The “now what” of our life’s sermons and of the Sunday sermon brings the fore, “now it’s your turn.” What Moses was assured of and which is vocalized in Jesus and which is attested to by the Holy Spirit again and again is that God, the One who is I AM the I AM, is the covenantal God who accompanies us on life’s and faith’s journey. Moses and the Israelites did not know what the long future held, nor did Peter and the disciples, and succeeding generations of God’s people. It’s always been that way – walking by faith and not by sight. Who would have thought that a little half past this year 2020, our entire world has been turned upside down. There is no new norm after this global pandemic of the coronavirus. And in the long-needed call for racial justice, there is no turning back pre-George Floyd; we cannot go back, lest we endanger the soul of our common humanity.
Whether in the time of Moses thousands of years ago, or the time of Jesus’s earthly ministry – God has always prepared and called generations of individuals, people who participate in the theo-drama of their times and places. We are called to participate prayerfully and worshipfully in leading and participating in exoduses, in offering hope in times and places of exiles, in confronting powers and principalities, in comforting and consoling those who feel abandoned and disempowered because of those powers and principalities, in embracing those who grieve departed loved ones, in supporting families in the nurture of a present-future generation, in lifting up the placards and voices of protests, in helping those without adequate employment, healthcare, education, housing, food, and clean water.
One of the closing prayers that I have shared many times comes from Book of Common Worship: Daily Prayer. It speaks powerfully and personally to what our daily response of faith is when confronted with the theo-drama of God’s and humanity’s relationship one to another, and of our shared humanity in Jesus Christ:
You call us to ventures
of which we cannot see the ending
by paths as yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.