Holy Communion 12/09/21 (16th Sunday after Trinity)
(Stephen Hamer -Diocesan Reader)
Based on Exodus 18:13-26
and Mark 8:27-38
May my words be in the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit
Two quite different passages of scripture this morning – the Old Testament reading records an event about 1,400 years BC and concerns the prophet Moses, while the second (New Testament) reading is about 30AD and involves Jesus himself.
Let’s look at Moses first -
Moses is arguably the most important Jewish prophet. He is credited with some notable events, such as writing the Torah (book of the law / Jewish Bible) and with leading the Israelites out of Egypt and across the Sea of Reeds into the Promised Land. He was born into the tribe of Levi – one of the twelve tribes of Israel while his parents were slaves in Egypt. This was at a time when the Pharaoh of Egypt had ordered every Hebrew male to be drowned. Pharaoh was concerned that there were too many Israelites and, although slaves, might overcome his army.
As we know, his mother put him into a basket made of reeds and floated him down the River Nile, only to be found by the daughter of the King of Egypt. She adopts him and he grows up in the palace as an Egyptian prince. She named him Moses, meaning one who is drawn out – in this case from the water of the Nile.
Exodus is the second book in the Bible and refers to the going out - the liberation of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The annual Jewish Passover festival celebrates the Exodus.
The word exodus is also in common use today. My brother John and wife Sue live in Ontario, Canada, but each year, along with many others, they refer to the exodus as do many sun-seeking Canadians as the journey to Florida in the Fall. Autumn in Canada is predictable – they have an ‘Indian summer’ starting about now when the native Canadian Indians picked the berries and hunted before the weather suddenly changed. From warmth and sunshine to frost and snow within a fortnight, thus today many jump in their cars and drive 1,400 miles down to Florida. That’s almost twice as far a driving from Lands’ End to John O’Groats - but like lemmings they travel down south in the fall and back up north in the spring.
Back to our Bible reading – based in Chapter 18 out of 40 in the book of Exodus – so a lot had already happened. It’s worth spending a few moments to look at the time-line.
We’ve already mentioned the birth of Moses and him growing up as an Egyptian prince, and then as an adult the Bible story unfolds:
And now we get to today’s Chapter 18…..
Jethro was the Father-in-Law of Moses who had not lived in Egypt but was living further west in Midian, not far from where Moses was camped. Jethro observed that Moses was spending all day with an ever-ending queue of people asking Moses for advice and settle disputes. Jethro was concerned that Moses would wear himself out.
Jethro, a Godly man, gave Moses some good advice:
So – what do we make of this passage. I see a number of points, such as God using people as messengers (in this case Jethro). Maybe unlikely people.
Moses the priest using helpers – only those who can be trusted and not bribed (v.21).
Interesting that over 3,000 yrs ago bribery was known. It is completely unacceptable for any elected leader to accept money or goods for favours - Earlier this year the corruption and cronyism in Liverpool Council was exposed, with £100 million pounds unaccounted for and mayor Joe Anderson having to stand down.
In today’s Church there is an increasing need for ministers to encourage laity (that’s us) to help them. The days of one church, one vicar, one PCC, etc have gone, especially in rural areas. Rural parishes invariably now comprise a number of churches – we’re one of five in the Parish of the West Coast, along with Peel, Dalby, Patrick and St Johns.
Our last Church was a large active church near High Wycombe, with over 300 members. While the local community annually appointed churchwardens (as we do here), the vicars chose half a dozen trusted Church members as Elders to assist him in trying to ascertain God’s will for the parish and to have delegated roles within Church, such as overseeing all the Home Groups, or overseeing youth work, etc.
Let’s move onto the New Testament reading from chapter 8 of the Gospel of St Mark read by Eileen.
To set it in a timeline and location – it’s a time of recorded miracles where Jesus had fed the 5,000 and the 4,000, walked on water and healed the blind man at Bethsaida at the northern end of Lake Galilee. He has moved northwards about 20 miles from Bethsaida into a very beautiful area with water from the streams and springs running off Mt Hermon that make the trees and the landscape green.
The place is Caesarea Philippi - a small ancient Roman settlement located at the foothills of Mount Hermon. It was named after one of Herod’s sons – Philip. It is adjacent to a spring and grotto, with shrines dedicated to the Greek god Pan thus originally called Panias, but today is better known as by its Arabic name Banias .
[There is also an old port city of Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast called Caesarea Maritima, in honour of Julius Caesar.]
History lesson over – so, what’s going on that is worthy of being recorded in the Bible? Our Lord had led his disciples away from familiar ground around Lake Galilee into the comparative seclusion of the country round Caesarea Philippi, in order to tell them plainly of His death. He knew how terrible the announcement would be, and Jesus wished to make it in some quiet spot, and to let it sink slowly into their minds.
From the beginning of his ministry about 2-3 years earlier, Jesus had given hints. These gradually were becoming clearer, and now the time had come for full disclosure. He knew this would try their faithfulness and courage.
The passage starts in v.27 with Jesus asking the disciples who they thought he was. They replied that some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah or one of the prophets. But what about you? says Jesus – who do you say that I am? Wow – that’s a pretty direct question. Peter eventually comes up with the answer Jesus was waiting to hear – “You are the Messiah”.
Then (v31) Jesus goes into quite some detail about his death – his suffering, his rejection by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law. Also, that he would be killed and rise again after three days. Peter found such detail painful and begged him to stop but Jesus told him that these were human concerns and that Peter was unable to see the bigger picture.
At this point, scripture records that Jesus then called the people to join him and the disciples. He reminds them about the way of the cross – that is, as Jesus says, to deny themselves and take up one’s cross and follow him. But, what does that mean? It sounds like something that comes at a cost. Speaking out for Christian principles is unpopular and, sadly some have lost their lives because they did.
Jesus was talking of replacing our natural nature, which is, every person for oneself, with Christian principles. After their escape from slavery in Egypt and living under Egyptian law, and having crossed the Sea of Reeds into the promised land of Canaan, the Israelites were given the ten commandments. After 3,000 years they are still the fundamental basis for our laws. Our natural human natures create disputes that, as we heard in the Old Testament reading, Moses was spending much of his time trying to resolve.
We’ve all known some lovely people who chose not to come to church but will uphold Christian principles - and might even be happy to be called a Christian. Many atheists accept Christian principles without realising where they originate.
Mohammed was born 500 years after Christ [570AD] and at the age of 40 felt the need to create a new faith based on his birthplace Mecca in Saudi Arabia. He incorporated a number of Christian principles into his holy book, the Koran. There is no record of him ever putting a foot into the Holy Land, even less Jerusalem - and the Jewish people rejected his teachings, which he hoped would replace Judaism.
On Mohammad’s death in Medina in 632AD the tribes fell out and formed two main groups - the much larger Sunni and the Shia. Islam is still divided tribally. As we’ve just seen recently in Afghanistan, the Islamic tribes such as the Taliban and Isis are still brutally punishing those who do not embrace Sharia Law. Punishments include public beatings, amputations and executions and no mutual respect between men and women. Against this deeply ingrained background there was little hope of western capitalism succeeding when it moved into Afghanistan 20 years ago.
Sadly, history has repeated itself, as it had done at least twice in the past.
Yesterday was 9/11 in American date notation that places the month first. It is exactly 20 years since Islamic fanatics high-jacked four passenger planes and flew them into the Twin Towers in New York and the HQ of the American military, the Pentagon, some 200 miles away in Washington. Over 3,000 people were killed.
Was Allah pleased ? – I don’t know, but I do know that our God would be weeping.
It is not the World that he intended. In giving us freedom of choice, we live our lives knowing our Christian responsibilities and ultimately our destiny.
Choose wisely, our earthly choices affect our eternal home.