Fr. Ron Feister: Following Directions

Sermon delivered on Trinity 12A, Sunday, September 7, 2014 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 12.1-14; Psalm 149.1-9; Romans 13.8-14; Matthew 18.15-20.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I must admit that I struggled long and hard to see how these readings that we have heard today are related to one another. It slowly came to me that they all deal with some type or aspect of God’s giving directions. Now there are all kinds of ways that we are familiar with in which we deal everyday with directions. To reflect on just a few. There are of course those that come in the form of Laws. Travel 35 miles per hour. Slow down in school zones. Pay your get the picture. For God’s people we have a set of directions that fall within this category – we call them the 10 Commandments. Have no false gods, do not steal, honor you parents, do not covet. We are all familiar with these and the Church periodically reminds us should we happen to forget.

There are travel directions. Today many of us have GPS devices that talk to us giving specific directions when to turn or even change lanes. My particular GPS also has a feature that should I miss a turn or chose a different route will complain that I need to turn around and take the right course. Before GPS devices were so common and in some case where we choose to drive without them, it is said that some people, mostly men I am told, have a tendency to resist taking directions from others or to charge even when we are not sure of the direction that we should go.

We today have the Bible as a set of directions to help us travel though this life. Like following the directions of a map, it does require that we spend some time with it and that we become familiar with some of the tools that make the Scriptural map easier to understand. Unlike my GPS, it will not speak out loud to you if you chose not to follow the right direction, but if you open your heart you will still find it speaking to you and leading you back in the right direction.

As most of you know, I enjoy baking, which of necessity requires that you at least start with a recipe. A specific list of ingredients and at some order of their combining and baking. I must admit that there is probably not a recipe that I have used that I have not from time to time modified. Sometime with great success and sometimes, let us say, not such a great success. Recipes are also a form of direction which also tend to expand and change. A simple bread dough becomes a marvelous dessert roll. But both simple and the new version look back to the early direction or recipe.

Then there are the directions that come with assembling some item. It might be a piece of put together furniture, or a bike or a computer. The directions are to be followed if we want to successfully achieve our goal. Sadly some to these directions seem to be written in a form of English that is challenging to say the least. Again it this case some of us have been known to try to find our own way to do something. Often with interesting if not regrettable results.

In the first reading from Exodus, the Lord is seen as instructing, that is giving directions to Moses and Aaron on how to prepare for the Passover. The directions are detailed. There is to be a Lamb for each family or group of families. It is to be free of blemish. It is to be slaughtered at a specific time and specific way by the head of the household. Then the head of the household is to sprinkle the blood on the doorposts and beam on the top of the door. The Lamb is to be roasted and fully consumed and any remnants totally burned. The first Passover Meal was a singular even in which the Angel of Death passed over the households of God’s people sparing their first born; however, it is also a feast that is to be kept as a festival celebration as a continuing Ordinance – that last work meant that it was to be binding like a law on the people of Israel and it is a feast that although changed in detail like a recipe changed due to changes in circumstances, remains as a centerpiece of the Jewish religion.

The Passover feast served as a preparation for deliverance from oppression and death and looked forward to the development of a homeland for God’s people. It was seen as showing God’s nature as gracious, merciful and as one who provides deliverance for the oppressed. Jesus as He gathers with his disciples as the meal we call the Last Supper, a meal held within the Passover tradition, takes this recipe -this direction, and applies it to a new level. Jesus is the unblemished Lamb and also the head of the household, it is his Blood that will be shed over the door posts and head boards of the hearts of God’s people.

Through Jesus’ transformation of the Passover directions we are promised that God truly shows his compassion to His people and frees them from the oppression of sin. As we now celebrate this new Passover meal we do so at the direction of the One who invites us to share in His very Body and Blood. Like the direction to Moses that the people of Israel celebrate the Passover Feast for all times with the seriousness of a Law so Jesus directs us to celebrate his Passover gift of the Eucharist as a perpetual ordinance.

Turning now to the Gospel of Matthew we are given fairly detailed directions on how we should deal with difference and disputes within the Church community. We are directed to first initiate an individual, one on one effort at reconciling with the one with whom we feel has sinned against us, the one with whom we are in dispute and only after that fails we are to have two or three others go with us -these others are not there to gang-up on the person with whom we are in dispute but to act as mediators, arbitrators, witnesses or perhaps even as teachers to all who are in dispute. If this to fails to bring reconciliation or the correction of error, then the matter is to be set before the Church for guidance and correction.

Finally if the person is found to still be sinning then that person is to be treated as one outside of the Church community. For the continuing sinner, this could mean total expulsion from the community permanently or for a set time or simply denial of the sacraments. For the early Church, it was often understood, that what was needed was to treat that person as Jesus treated the Gentiles and tax collectors. Jesus would heal them, care for them, and continually invite them to be his disciples. Jesus would offer them a fresh start. Even though they were outside of God’s chosen people, Jesus would call them to be reconciled to the Father. So then we are called by the example of Jesus to heal, to care for, to pray for, those who sin against us and to encourage them to reconcile both to us and to our Heavenly Father. In giving these directions, on how to deal with such matters, it seems clear that Jesus knew and wanted that Church to expect that from time to time that there would be conflict, but He also wanted the Church to know that through the Spirit and in love that reconciliation is possible and necessary. It s in this way, the Church gives a witness to the whole of the world of how God desires to reconcile all of creation to Himself and to bring lasting peace.

Finally we turn our attention to the Epistle reading from Romans which starts out with those directions that we earlier described as being God’s laws – here again some are listed – you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet. Remember earlier when I talked about directions on how to assemble something. Businesses have become aware that most people want to get to the point, they want to start using the new item as soon as possible, so they have started placing simplified, short and direct instructions with their products that allow for immediate use. Paul now uses a similar approach. He points out that all of these Commandments can be summed up in the words “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”. In doing so, Paul is not referring to a physical neighbor or a person to whom we owe some duty or have some relationship, but rather we are to understand “Neighbor” as Jesus did in the story of the Good Samaritan as one whose has a need and one to whom we can give help. Paul is not devaluing the study of the Ten Commandments. As the full set of instructions for a product allow for it fuller use; the study of all Scripture and the Ten Commandments will give deeper and fuller guidance to the follower of Jesus, but here Paul wants to drive home the point that these Laws are not just some formal rule, but our based on an attitude of love and caring.

Paul also directs the members of the Church at Rome to be especially aware of certain practices which are harmful, not unlike the warning notice or directions on certain products – for example avoid drunkenness, quarreling and jealousy. Paul does not stop with the negatives, but encourages, directs, the Believers to put on the armor of Light and more specifically to put on Jesus. This expression means actually to become as Christ. To live in the World as Christ did – healing, encouraging, and reconciling.

God gives his direction to us in many different forms. Like many other types of directions we are free to follow them or ignore them at our own peril. Following them we may be assured that we will travel the path that leads to our Lord and his Peace.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.