Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Great Escape

7 September 2008 * Exodus 12:1-14/Psalm 149/Romans 13:8-14/Matthew 18:15-20

The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

The Great Escape

All three of our lessons are about how we are to live and be the community of God’s people: Exodus details how we are to remember who we are and where we come from, Romans and Matthew get specific about how we are to treat one another.

Last Sunday Moses stood on Holy Ground before a bush that burned and was not consumed. A number of chapters and episodes later we now find him planning The Great Escape. The people of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been led into a generation or more of slavery by a series of credit arrangements, mortgage foreclosures, and property confiscations orchestrated by brother Joseph – Joseph who had gone to work for the Empire and controlled the central bank.

It is the story of Passover – being protected by the blood of the lamb. Later, it would be John the Baptizer who would declare Jesus as the Lamb of God. John knew that our Great Escape, our deliverance, from our alliances with slavery, a slavery to sin in all its myriad varieties, would only come through the blood of the Lamb of God – Jesus.

So it is we say, often with a sort of perfunctory unconsciousness, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” In just what kinds of slavery do we find ourselves enmeshed?

Paul in his letter to the church at Rome, Matthew writing the Good News of Jesus to a later generation of early Christians, both boil it down to the essentials: put on Lord Jesus Christ – honor one another, love one another, as Christ loves us.

Some four hundred years later in his writing on the life of the Spirit, Saint Benedict would make the same distinction: Rather than first call us to prayer, or sacrifice, or devotions, Benedict calls us not only to see Christ in one another, but to treat the other as Christ. Love God, love the other, do no harm to anyone.

It sound simple enough, but life in community is never simple. The call to be in a church is a call to live in community. And although our Baptismal Vow is to “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” it is much easier not to do so.

Paul and Jesus know it is far easier to fall into quarreling and jealousy. It is far easier to allow our anger, our certainties, our needs, our problems, our loneliness, our sadness, get between us and others in the community. And anything that gets between us and the love of God, a love God has for all persons, the Book of Common Prayer tells us is sin (BCP 302).

Paul and Jesus, like Moses before them, know how damaging and unhealthy this becomes for the community. Yet, as much as we might even know this, we become addicted or enslaved to behaviors that are as damaging to the life of the community as they are to us.

This would be why addictive disorders of all kinds are often referred to as family disorders or disease, because the disorder, the sin, damages everyone in its path. It is Paul elsewhere who writes with passion that despite his own best efforts, the sin he wishes not to commit he does. It becomes a kind of slavery.

There is the old Woody Allen joke: a man goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doctor, doctor, what can we do? I have an uncle who thinks he’s a chicken!” “Very simple,” says the doctor, “it sounds like a simple neurosis. We should be able to clear that up in just a few sessions.” But the man says, “No, Doc, you can’t do that!” “Why not?” asks the doctor. “Because we depend on the eggs!”

Family systems adapt themselves to unhealthy behaviors and disorders because we come to depend on the eggs – in many cases this means that we don’t like the behaviors, but at least they are dependable.

So in Exodus, God assembles all of his powers and the spirit of his mighty wind and delivers the Hebrew children out of slavery and into freedom – The Great Escape. Where, of course, we will hear them in two weeks from now begging to return to Egypt and slavery because they had become so dependent on the eggs of slavery – three square meals, and patterns of living more predictable than waiting to listen to what God has in store for them next!

Today we gather to be with Jesus our Passover – believing that Jesus will find ways to deliver us from our addiction and slavery to all kinds of sinful behaviors. We find Matthew’s Jesus laying out a simple flow chart for unmasking, undoing and forgiving the sins to which we cling like so many dozens and dozens of eggs!

The beauty of this passage in Matthew, and the similar outline offered by Paul, is that it can be understood to apply to life in community, be it family or church; or, it could be understood as Jesus in a sense talking to himself since in the end, he is the one against whom all have sinned.

So imagine it is Jesus who comes to you himself, alone, to offer a way out, and later embodied by one or two members of the community, until Jesus surrounds us with loved ones who desire our repentance. This would be the church.

And although the procedural plain sense of verse 17 suggests excommunication for those who fail to repent, becoming to the community as a Gentile or Tax Collector, we are those people who remember. We remember that Jesus says elsewhere (a few weeks from now actually!) that Gentiles and Tax Collectors will enter the kingdom ahead of the righteous.

So if that is true, that in our refusal to repent we become in fact as Gentiles and Tax Collectors, we then become special objects of Jesus’ attention and mercy. Imagine for a moment how it feels to be the special object of Jesus’ attention and mercy.

And then imagine how this is the key to our learning how to stand on Holy ground and to honor our baptismal vow to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.” Are we capable of not just seeing Christ in one another, but treating one another as Christ – as if he is right here in our midst? Because we in fact believe he is here, now, in this place where two or three are gathered in His name. Christ our Passover is here ready to deliver us from all that holds us in bondage and set us free. He is the Great Escape for us all!

In the words of the Psalmist we sing, “Sing to the Lord a new song, sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful!” Amen.

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