go right here The Sunday Sermon: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – July 17, 2016
cliquez maintenant #GoodQuestionsMatter
What an honor it is to be here again at Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church… and during your sesquicentennial year-long celebration! I’m such a fan of this church and those connected to it including, of course, your pastor Joel Weible as well as one of the children of this church who is now a retired pastor in North Carolina, Stewart Ellis. I spoke with Stewart this week and he sends his greetings. He continues to do good ministry, now as an active farmer and participant in addressing food inequities. He sells and shares food he grows with those who have little and helps them set up community gardens to provide for themselves and their own needs and that of their neighbors. Just one more reason to be a fan of the ministry here at Pewee Valley Presbyterian. I just wonder, what are you doing or will you do next to honor God and God’s intentions for you and God’s beloved world? Would you pray with me as we turn to God’s story for guidance told in scripture in the book of Exodus, chapter 32, the first fourteen verses?
Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O God of reconciliation and remarkable reversals. Amen.
Exodus 32: 1-14 Worshipping the gold bull calf
32 The people saw that Moses was taking a long time to come down from the mountain. They gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come on! Make us gods[a] who can lead us. As for this man Moses who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t have a clue what has happened to him.”
2 Aaron said to them, “All right, take out the gold rings from the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took out the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 He collected them and tied them up in a cloth.[b] Then he made a metal image of a bull calf, and the people declared, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”
5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf. Then Aaron announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!” 6 They got up early the next day and offered up entirely burned offerings and brought well-being sacrifices. The people sat down to eat and drink and then got up to celebrate.
7 The Lord spoke to Moses: “Hurry up and go down! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, are ruining everything! 8 They’ve already abandoned the path that I commanded. They have made a metal bull calf for themselves. They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it and declared, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I’ve been watching these people, and I’ve seen how stubborn they are. 10 Now leave me alone! Let my fury burn and devour them. Then I’ll make a great nation out of you.”
11 But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, “Lord, why does your fury burn against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and amazing force? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He had an evil plan to take the people out and kill them in the mountains and so wipe them off the earth’? Calm down your fierce anger. Change your mind about doing terrible things to your own people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, whom you yourself promised, ‘I’ll make your descendants as many as the stars in the sky. And I’ve promised to give your descendants this whole land to possess for all time.’” 14 Then the Lord changed his mind about the terrible things he said he would do to his people.
One: Through these words, may we hear the Word of the Lord. All: Thanks be to God
How do you feel when a kid asks a question? You know, something like, “When will we get there?”; “Who is that on TV?”; “Where are we going next?”; “How does that work?”; “What is that on my plate?”; or “Why did that happen?”
There are various developmental theories of inquisitive phases and stages, each pointing out the benefits to curiosity, exploration and learning… and I agree. However, when it’s a child you know and they are asking the 100th question, do you ever get a bit annoyed? I know I do. As much as I like a good question, too many questions do not add to the enjoyment and I start to wonder if they are more about commanding attention and less about getting an education!
You know what though, the last few months I have been asking lots of questions myself. Every news cycle seems to provide at least one new and disturbing pertinent question disturbing rhetoric or activities of other human beings… other children of God. “When will political parties learn to speak civilly to one another? Who will heal the tragic losses in Nice, France? Where will Brexit lead the European Union and the world? How can we best address exploding educational debt? What can we do to reconcile the loss of Black Lives? Why are police in the United States asked to close the gap in underfunded social and mental health systems? What are we going to do about Turkey?
Maybe you have questions too?
I’m here to say today, good questions matter! They matter to the world. They matter to the body of Christ. Good questions matter to God.
Good questions that lack a simple explanation drive research by some of our brightest minds. In fact, when my father-in-law, a church historian, New Testament scholar, and author of thirty-eight books is asked where he got all the ideas for his books, he says they all came from students with good questions. They were able to articulate something that was unclear or unexplained, and he worked to answer those questions. His last book was a memoir which is sort of his final answer to what made him as a person of faith, minister of the gospel, professor, writer, and disciple.
Whether we like it or not, we are each writing on our own life memoirs for one another: for our families, friends, communities and world. History is being made in the small ways as we answer questions, intentionally or not. My prayers is that you and I are working to answer good questions, questions without simple explanations; questions that matter.
I am convinced that as people of faith in a God who is not scared of good questions, that we are each created and called to a holy pilgrimage of living into the answers God gives us the power to provide to life’s most difficult questions. So when I supposed that you may have questions about what is going on today in the world, in your community, with your friends, and in your family, I pray you and I have good questions. And I pray you and I are finding answers and a community of faith to help us answer the toughest ones. Our life memoirs, our legacy’s, and God’s world and community are on the line.
The people Israel and Moses are writing possibly the most critical section in their own life’s memoir in Chapter 32 that we read today. The story is iconic, literally, iconic. While Moses is away on Mount Sinai discerning how Israel is to best live in covenant with God, how they are to answer life’s central questions, the people Israel are grumbling. They are not lamenting, longing for a better day, they are grumbling. Their grumbling, is really a bad question and a bad answer that they share with Moses’ brother, spokesperson and lead assistant, Aaron. “Come on! Make us a god who can lead us. As for this man Moses who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t have a clue what has happened to him.” We are not told if Aaron comes up with the idea or the people do, but together they contribute their gold, mold it into a calf, declare it their new god, an icon, and hold a festival the next day to consecrate and celebrate the god they fashioned.
Word of the golden calf is far from a private event and is learned quickly by Moses and God on the Mountain. The bull calf was a common Egyptian idol that Israel must have noted when enslaved by Pharoah. It was their old way of living that they symbolically were returning to because their patience was short for living in covenant with the God of Moses and Jacob, Abraham and Sarah. Their question was weak, “Would you fashion us a god because we don’t know what happened to Moses.” This bad question, as most bad questions do, yields an even weaker answer “Shape and mold an idol resembling Egyptian gods.”
God’s first response is far from merciful. “I’ve been watching these people, and I’ve seen how stubborn they are. 10 Now leave me alone! Let my fury burn and devour them.”
Moses then asks some really good questions to God. “Lord, why does your fury burn against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and amazing force? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He had an evil plan to take the people out and kill them in the mountains and so wipe them off the earth’?
Moses even offers a good possible answer for God to these good questions: “Calm down your fierce anger. Change your mind about doing terrible things to your own people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, whom you yourself promised, ‘I’ll make your descendants as many as the stars in the sky. And I’ve promised to give your descendants this whole land to possess for all time.’”
What happens next, besides the resurrection of Christ Jesus, may be the greatest and most remarkable reversal in Scripture. Some scholars say, it rivals the that of the entire Exodus story itself.
14 Then the Holy One changed the Holy One’s mind about the terrible things the Lord said would be done to the people Israel.
God’s compassionate true self reemerges because of the questions Moses raises. This is less like the God described in the 1923 hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness as “Thou changest not” and more like the phrase that immediately follows, Thy compassions, they fail not” God did turn. God did change Go’d mind.. God did return to love and compassion, inherent to the nature of God’s true self. Or you might say, Moses’ questions, indeed his intersessions, reminded God of God’s true self. God’s conversion of mind is a model for us.
So what are the good questions you have today? Or put another way, where do you want to intercede in your prayers for what is wrong in the world? Some of the questions I have been living with the last few weeks are caught up in the question, Why? Why, O God, is there so much deadly violence? Many other questions quickly follow: How can I be a part of stopping this violence? Where is the best place to put my energy? When am I participating in the violence through my own negligence? What can be done that will make a difference?
You see, I am convinced that as people of faith in a God who is not scared of good questions, that we are each created and called to a holy pilgrimage of living into the answers that God gives us the power to provide to these life’s most difficult questions. I believe in God described in scripture of radical and remarkable reversals, of change for the better, of possibility beyond our imagination that starts with our good questions…. Not bad questions. Not questions like the people Israel who decide to contribute to a god of gold, but questions like Moses’ that turn down heated anger, call forth the true nature of best possible selves, demand justice, and envision promising places and lands and times.
My sermon today, you may have noticed, is #GoodQuestionsMatter. That hashtag (#) and three word title intentionally is a play on #BlackLivesMatter. This national, if not international, movement over the last three years began as a way to help researchers ( read people asking good questions) [a way for these researchers] to track information on social media websites. In previous generations, a ribbon may have been worn, or a label or historical marker placed to help those who came behind to identify important information, lest anyone forget.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement seeks to discern and ask the right questions about disproportional violence against the African-American community. Jim Holladay, pastor of Lyndon Baptist Church, said it well last week at a rally of White Clergy at Simmons College that I participated in. “The cry BlackLivesMatter matters (because) of the millions of African-American persons who gain a sense of empowerment… for standing up for their own personhood. Most African-American have been used and abused by the predominantly white economic, social, and polical structures. (They are saying) I am not less than human. I’m not 3/5th of a person. I’m not a second (class) citizen. My life matters. I am somebody. .. This is not a threat, but people standing up for their full humanity and rightful place in this country and our society. It is a bold proclaimation that ‘our lives matter’ not more, not less, but just the same as everyone elses.” He goes on to say, “BlackLivesMatter matters as a call to white Americans able to respond. [Notice, Here comes the question] (Can we say) “of course, your life matters!”? (Are we ready to) rooting out the vestiges of racism in ourselves, our culture, the economic system, and the Government at all levels?” What do when we learn that Louisville, KY is one of the top 10 most segregated cities in America?
My partner in life, Presbyterian minister, and professor of theology at Bellarmine also spoke at that rally where she put forward another good question, one that echoed African-American theological educator, pastor, writer, and mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr., Howard Thurman: “How will people respond to those who are in power?” She went on to share that Thurman notes there are two common responses to this question. One, to ally oneself with empire; to become part of the oppressive power. The second he describes is the path of violence, which has been the answer way too often lately. Thurman, she reminded all of us and the media outlets gathered, offered a third way, a way that Jesus described. That path, that response, that answer to those in power and a really good question is “Embodying love. Embodying love in the midst of our society and that means doing justice.”
Remember, I am convinced, and I hope you as well, that as people of faith in a God who is not scared of good questions, that we are each created and called to a holy pilgrimage of living into the answers God gives us the power to provide to life’s most difficult questions. In 1866 the people of faith who founded Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church were not afraid to ask some good questions. I suspect you never have been. I wonder, in this sesquicentennial year, a celebration I am honored to be a part of, what questions you will ask individually and together that will provide answers for God and God’s world in the coming days, months, years, decades and even coming centuries? I noticed that, whether it is truth or legend, the first reported member of Pewee Valley after those founding members was an African-American woman by the name of Aunt Clary Gordon who joined in the summer of 1870… 1870! That’s unexpected. That’s a radical and remarkable reversal! I wonder who even asked her if she’d like to join? I wonder who wrote down this story? Joel tells me her name is not in the session records. Even if she isn’t, Aunt Clary Gordon’s name and story is remembered. Someone must have changed their mind based on what they believed about God because the U.S. constitution had only abolished slavery with the 13th amendment a few years earlier… up until that time African-Americans were only considered and counted as 3/5th of a person and only months before were African-American men given the right to vote. As a black woman, Aunt Clary Gordon was, at a minimum, doubly oppressed by society… but not this Church. Your founders obviously asked a more divinely inspired question asking to “What would God do?” And their answer, though radical, was easy from there. “God would name and claim her as beloved and so will we.”
May that be for all the Alton Sterling’s and Philando Castile’s needlessly killed by police, and their brothers in the Dallas police department senselessly assassinated last week: Brent Thompson (43),Patrick Zamarripa (32), Michael Krol (40), and Michael Smith (55), as well as the nearly one-hundred mowed over by a terrorist in Nice, France on Friday… and each Turkish citizen in this time of chaos . God names and claims them as beloved and so will we. Senseless violence may be the question, and acting for justice by embodying love is the answer… living into our covenant with God and God with us. May it be. Amen.
Benediction: Where we have hate, sow justice and love. Where we give easy answers, provide for us better questions. And know that the Holy One who creates, reconciles, and sustains will create in us reconciling answers to sustain us in our covenant life full of love, hope, and peace through the work of justice.