You Are Enough

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.


Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:

This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.

Exodus 1:8-14 ; 3:1-15

A  couple of weeks ago, I was going about my  business as usual, and preparing to preach on Sunday, when something happened that changed everything.  You see, as a pastor and a public speaker, there are a lot of variables that I have to consider when I prepare to speak–what will I say?  How will I grab the attention of my audience?  How will I convey the emotional force of God’s Word?  But there is one thing that I always take for granted: my voice.

But one morning i woke up, and my voice had left me.  Like Paul, or Zechariah, I found myself unable to depend upon my own body to do what I needed. For two, three four, five, six days, I found myself deprived of the one thing I could count on—make that two things—my vocal chords. Every morning, I woke up, expecting my voice to “show up.” And every morning, for over a week, I was disappointed.no_voice I wonder whether this is what the Israelites felt like in Egypt. In our last conversation, we heard the story of Jacob wrestling a divine being, of a God who was so close we could practically touch him, but a lot has happened since then. The people of Israel have found their way out of their own land and into Egypt, where they have been treated as welcome guests. But over the generations, the welcome becomes less warm. The Egyptians begin to fear these “foreigners,” even though many of them were born there.

Slavery_In_Egypt_1153-21-Vol_2As our Scripture picks up here, we find the Israelites with their back up against the wall, as their welcome in Egypt turns sour. But they cannot simply pick up and leave, for the Egyptians have conscripted them into heavy labor. Their bodies have been colonized, and even Hebrew children find that they aren’t safe here any more. It is as though the Israelites have lost their voice. Where is God in all this darkness?

For what a dark time this must have been. To live in a world where to be born is to be put at risk. To live in a world where your body is treated like property. Where you were prohibited from worshipping your God freely. Where you had no access to adequate water, or food or rest from your labor. To live in a world that does not seem to want you.

And yet, we live in a world that is exactly like this. This very second, thousands of men and women and children just like the Hebrew people find themselves at risk: of being enslaved, of being murdered, of being starved, imprisoned, of being stripped of their dignity and their voice. The only difference is, the people who at risk are not us. We find ourselves in a position of security, looking out into a world that is populated by people near and far who are suffering, hurting, and in need of hope.

Children cry as migrants waiting on the Greek side of the border break through a cordon of Macedonian special police forces to cross into Macedonia, near the southern city of Gevgelija, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 21 August 2015. Macedonian police clashed with thousands of migrants attempting to break into the country after being stranded in no-man's land overnight, marking an escalation of the European refugee crisis for the Balkan country.  EPA/GEORGI LICOVSKI
Children cry as migrants waiting on the Greek side of the border break through a cordon of Macedonian special police forces to cross into Macedonia, near the southern city of Gevgelija, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 21 August 2015. Macedonian police clashed with thousands of migrants attempting to break into the country after being stranded in no-man’s land overnight, marking an escalation of the European refugee crisis for the Balkan country. EPA/GEORGI LICOVSKI

So where can we find ourselves in this story in such a time as this? Certainly we aren’t like Pharoah. For we have not made the policies. Our fingers are not on the trigger. And we aren’t his army—I haven’t noticed any Ivylanders out there enacting violence on behalf of the state. I wonder if perhaps, instead, we are like the thousands upon thousands of Egyptian people, or perhaps their neighbors down the Nile, who looked on, who heard the cries of the Hebrew people, who watched their bodies break and their children starve as they cried out to their God.

Consider the fact that currently millions of refugees across the globe are crying out for freedom. Even more are captive in countries where their children are fodder for drone attacks and mortar shellings, where those who survive are promised inadequate medical care and poor access to food and education. Even our own children are not safe: we were reminded this week that not a single week has gone by this year, or the year before it, or the year before that, in which there wasn’t a mass shooting on a school campus.

And though not a single one of us is launching missiles or building walls to keep refugees out, though none of us are consciously depriving others of the right to worship or to live safely, or educate their children, the truth is that we have stood by as others do. We have seen their faces; we have heard their cries. We cannot claim that we do now know we are far from God’s Kingdom. And our silence becomes an answer that echoes in the ears of the oppressed, saying “You are not our problem.”

Moses knew something about this. You see, when he was confronted with his own heritage, his own identity as a child of the oppressed, of the foreigner, of the outcast, his first instinct was to get angry. So angry that he lashed out in violence against the enemy, an Egyptian soldier. His reaction so frightened him, and his fear of justice was so great, that his second instinct was to run far, far away, as far as his legs could take him.

burning-bush-2But fortunately for us, Moses learns that no hideout is so distant that God cannot find you. In the land of Ur, far from any Egyptian or Israelite, God reveals himself to Moses. And in a moment of brilliance, the light of God shines upon this wandering child of God and reveals to him a third way, a new opportunity to bear witness to God’s justice in the face of a dark dark world.

God shows Moses right there in the middle of nowhere that sometimes the bravest thing that we can do is to turn around and dare greatly, to bear witness to the suffering of our brothers and sisters with our greatest weapon: our testimony. Even at the risk of our own life.

Of course, Moses isn’t sure at first. “Why me?” he cries, or rather, “Who am I?”

To which God answers: “Why Not you? Who else?” Perhaps Moses has forgotten that he is in fact the perfect person for this task: as the adopted son of the Pharoah’s daughter, he is both an insider and an outsider to Egypt. Moses is perfectly positioned to bring the voice of the oppressed to the seat of power. And yet, in the face of God’s call, he falls mute.

But God will not accept Moses’ weak excuses. If you do not speak, who will? When God calls us to speak into the void of injustice, who are we to say no? To call ourselves unfit to the task? To say, “This is not my problem…someone else can handle it.”

Friends, when you have found that your conscience is set ablaze by the devastation of today’s reality, pay attention. It may be that it is God’s voice speaking to you. When you see the suffering of the other, and recognize it as your own, as the suffering of God’s creation, that is God speaking to you. That is God saying: “This is your problem. Go do something about it.”heres-your-sign

Perhaps our problem is we are so afraid of the risk, that we have forgotten our fear of God. We have forgotten our story: that once upon a time, we were foreigners, we were outcasts, we were slaves, and we were brought in and given a family in the Kingdom of God. We have forgotten the strength of a God who has the power to set our hearts ablaze with the fire of God but not consume us. We have forgotten the awesome power of the one whom the cross could not kill and the grave could not hold.

And it is to us, In the face of a world filled with fear, that God offers a simple message to us all:

Turn, and follow Jesus. Follow Jesus into the world, in all of its suffering, in all of its pain. Bear witness to the light, with your testimony, with your body, with every gift that you have that God has given you. Pay attention to the ground one which you stand, for when you do this, you may find yourself standing on very holy ground, indeed.

God would have us remember that God doesn’t need much to change the world. All it takes is one person willing to take a stand, whether it is a woman shielding her baby, or a man speaking truth to the Pharoah. Perhaps all God needs are the souls in this room. We are enough.

Enough for what, you may ask? Enough for a revolution of love. Enough to speak to the eternal truth that all of of the God-created beings of this world deserve care. Enough to shine a beacon so that others might see: this is holy ground on which we stand.love1

Who are you? You are God’s instrument. And that, brothers and sisters, is enough.

Prove It

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

The Epistle of James 2:1-17

Kids-Waking-Up-Too-Early

I have been haunted this week by the image of a father being awakened by his children in the morning.

It is such a simple thing…. When you are a parent, the odds are good that, if you aren’t a morning person, you have been awakened by little hands on your eyelids, a sloppy kiss on the cheek, or that undeniable feeling that SOMEONE IS WATCHING YOU.

Little kids are like that—they wake up and they want to be with the people that they love. More precisely, they want YOU to be with them. Doing whatever it is that they want to do in that moment. It is one of those classic experiences of parenting that is so mundane, so simple, that you almost forget about it, until you are reminded.

And I have been haunted by this image, because this week, all I can think about is Abdullah Kurdi, and of the awful truth that he will never be awakened in the morning by his little boys again, because both of them drowned off the coast of Turkey this week in a desperate bid to escape the kind of life that no parent would ever imagine for their children.

Alyan and Galip Kurdi, beautiful little boys whose lives were claimed this week by conflict in Syria
Alyan and Galip Kurdi in better times

“They were so wonderful,” Abdullah said of his two boys, Aylan and Galip. “They would wake me up in the morning to play with them.”

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/bcvideo/1.0/iframe/embed.html?videoId=100000003889838&playerType=embed

And all I can think as I hear his words, as I watch this devastated father in that space where there truly are no more words that can speak into the horror of this moment, is this: that could have been me.

I look at Abdullah, this Muslim father from Kobani, Syria, and I hear myself in his pain. I hear my own experience of loving my children, of living every day, of cherishing the little things. And when my children wake me up each morning, this week I cannot help but think of the thousands of Syrian, Afghanian, Somalian, Guatemalan and Burmese refugees who have lost the average and the everday, the promise and the hope of life with loved ones, to the crushing brutality of violence.

As I read our scripture today, I am reminded that the life of the Christian isn’t so much about defending God—we weren’t put on this earth to prove that God is powerful, or almighty, or worthy of praise. God can do that on God’s own.

But according to James, the brother of Jesus himself, we were put on this earth to love our neighbors. And as God’s people, perhaps we more than anyone else have a special calling, a commission, if you will, to protect and care for all of God’s children, because they absolutely do need protection.

  • For it is God’s children who are drowning in distant waters
  • God’s children who are wasting away, forgotten, in refugee camps and holding pens in countries that don’t want them.
  • God’s children who are suffocating in refrigerated trucks
  • God’s children who are trapped in monasteries, in small villages, in slavery, in violent societies and desperate to escape but too poor to run.
  • God’s children who are crying out not only for a chance at a fair wage, but for a chance at any life at all.

I was reading a popular blog this week, and in it the author observed that perhaps it is time for us to remember that, for all of the problems our country faces, every single person in this room was born lucky enough to grow up in a country that protects our fundamental rights to life, to liberty, to the pursuit of happiness. Let’s stop acting like this is something we deserve, and remember that it was a gift. Because maybe, just maybe, if we remember that this is a gift, we might be more inclined to compassion for those who have been born into countries and situations where there is no peace, no safety, no promise of freedom. Perhaps we might be inclined to act with compassion, and grace, to extend a warm hand to our neighbors, to live out the best inclinations of a country that was first people by outsiders, refugees, and minorities from their own mother lands.

Perhaps what is required of us is the courage to respond faithfully to Jesus’ own brother, who reminds us that Jesus called us to set aside the temptation to group our neighbors into categories of those who deserve our attention and those do not, of those who are worthy and those who are unworthy, those who are rich and those who are poor, those who are in and those who are out. And instead, perhaps we are called to use our god-given energies and talents to fulfill the Scripture, which calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. To see our neighbors as ourselves, and respond as we would hope that others would respond if we were in a similar predicament.

“For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Mercy will cost us, friends. Mercy may require that we choose to put another’s hurt above our own comfort. That we choose to alleviate the suffering of others instead of keeping ourselves comfortable. Lord knows mercy isn’t easy—mercy got Jesus crucified, and the apostles martyred. Mercy will cost us, and it won’t make us popular.

If we cannot be merciful on our own, we may find that God shames us into action. For as I watched Germany and Austria throw open their borders to thousands of refugees this yesterday, I was put in mind of Jesus, who, in speaking of perseverance, tells this story:

Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

Or of Paul, who writes in 1 Corinthians:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

Is it not the poor, the weak of this world, who are throwing their bodies against our doors this very moment, begging for little more than bread to eat and the opportunity for their children to live and play in peace? And will we be those who shut ourselves into our homes, and thrust our fingers into our ears, or will we recognize that no-one picks up and leaves everything behind, no one treks through mountains or sneaks through train tunnels, no one boards an inflatable raft to cross an unknown sea, no person would do this if things were just fine back home. When will we see that nothing will change until our hearts are changed? And our hearts will not change until we open our eyes and our minds and our ears so that we may be informed about the suffering of our neighbor.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”

“Do you love Jesus?” Asks James. Then prove it. Prove it by choosing to do the hard thing. Prove it by loving your neighbor until it hurts. Until it hurts like mercy overflowing, and justice without limits. Prove it, and remember: faith without works is dead.

In Presbyterian theology, we call this sanctification. The daily work of acting on the principles and teachings of our Lord and Savior, of living out what we have been taught. It’s the difference between reading a book about hiking and walking the Appalachian trail. And I promise you, it isn’t easy, but it is worth it in the end.

Walking this trail will change your life far more than looking at a picture of it.
Walking this trail will change your life far more than looking at a picture of it.

Fear not, brothers and sisters, for God walks beside you, just as God walks beside the thousands of Syrian refugees risking life and limb to find a place in this world where they might experience mercy and justice. Just like God stands watch beside grieving families on distant battle fields and beside unstill waters and refuses to let us stand silently by as God’s people suffer.

In that Momastery post I mentioned earlier, author Glennon Doyle closed with the following words:

The two most repeated phrases in the Bible are “Fear not.” And “Remember.” If someone is fear mongering, telling you to build walls instead of tearing them down, instead of scaling them to feed hungry people, encouraging any sort of us vs. them mentality….THINK HARD. The Gospel says, “do not be afraid. Remember.” Remember is the opposite of dismember. When we shut our doors to our own family: when we are afraid of each other—we are dismembered. The kingdom of God comes when we treat each other like Kin. Like family. When we remember.

The balls in our court.

A Syrian refugee holding his son and daughter
by Daniet Etter/New York Times/Redux /eyevine. Laith Majid cries tears of joy and relief that he and his children have made it to Europe.

Discipleship and Haiti

When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

Matthew 25: 31-40

Last week I was driving into town and I noticed a church sign that said the following “ Even the demons tremble and believe.”  Now, I thought to myself, that must be one exciting church… I could just imagine the potential for hell-fire and brimstone on that sign-post, and I lost myself in visions of what sort of sermon that sign might be speaking of.

But for all my fascination and surprise—Presbyterians don’t often get the demons into their sermons, much less their church signs—I also found that, over the course of this week, my mind has gone back again and again to those words… “even the demons tremble and believe.”  The quote is from the book of James, and the author’s main agenda is to remind his readers that there is so much more to faith than what a person says with his tongue—what she says with her feet, and her hands, and her hearts, is equally important, if not more so, because it is with hands and feet and hearts that Christians demonstrate the character of belief in God.

And it was as I entertained these thoughts in my mind that the news began to filter in about the earthquake in Haiti.  News reports and images of overwhelming devastation flooded international and local news service, stories of thousands dead and more injured, of families torn apart and of the glaring need for a concerted response to the tragedy.

I began to wonder, what is it that we are called to be when things like this happen?  And so I turned to scripture, and to the church for answers.  I turned to Matthew 25 and it was there that I began to find an answer to my question.  In this story, Christ, is speaking to his disciples when he tells them a story about sheep and goats.  The word disciple is a latin translation of the word μαθητεύω, which means to follow.  The book of Matthew, then, could be understood as the book of “following,” of discipleship, for that is what the name Matthew means.

The story of the sheep and the goats, then, is a story about discipleship to disciples, people like us who have committed their lives to Christ and who are trying to learn how to live faithfully in to that commitment.  In it, Christ tells a parable about sheep and goats in order to illustrate a central point of discipleship;  That our actions matter.

He says:  when God comes, how you LIVED your faith will matter.  Your membership in God’s Kingdom will in some way depend on how you responded to God’s grace.  And in case there are questions about the nature of response, Jesus makes it simple:  he says, when I was hungry, you fed me, when was thirsty you gave me drink, when I was homeless you gave me room, when I was shivering you gave me clothes, when I was sick you visited, and when I was in prison you offered companionship. And that you did this when you acted in such a way to those around you, the overlooked and ignored.”

There is a story about a desert monk who once posed a question  to an elder: There are two brothers, one of whom remains praying in his cell, fasting six days at a time and doing a great deal of penance. The other one takes care of the sick. Which one’s work is more pleasing to God? The elder replied: If that brother who fasts six days were to hang himself up by the nose, he could not equal the one who takes care of the sick.

Do you see what I am getting at here?  Christ offers us in this parable of the sheep and the goats something critical about what it means to have faith.  He says, If you believe, you will respond to suffering in others.  In fact, he says even more.  He says, your salvation, your citizenship in the Kingdom of God, depends in some way on the nature of our response to God.

Now, some of you may be wondering, doesn’t our faith teach us that it is by grace alone that we are saved?  Certainly, it is true that Calvin observed long ago that nothing we can do will overcome the chasm that separates us from God, and that Christ alone provides a means to salvation.  But even Christ teaches us that he did not die for nothing… As Paul says, do we sin so that Grace may abound?  By no means!  Rather, we are justified by grace THROUGH faith… in other words, we respond with compassion and with action BECAUSE we are saved, and that is one way by which God’s Kingdom is made manifest in the world.

Now, I don’t need to tell you for you to know that there are hungry, thirsty, homeless, shivering, sick and imprisoned people suffering in Haiti right now.  Thousands are homeless because their homes have collapsed in Port-au-Prince.  Drinking quality water has and continues to be a problem in Haiti.  They have NEVER had enough food.  Hospitals cannot handle the need, and there are still people imprisoned in the rubble and trapped by conditions of poverty on that tiny island.

And friends, our faith demands that we respond.  Ours is a faith that finds its center in a  yearning for justice, a yearning that is not our own but is shared by God in the figure of Christ who suffered and continues to suffer that all might be made well in this world.  Our Lord suffers with the people of Haiti, and is grieved when we choose to turn a blind eye to the suffering that lies before us.

I saw a billboard on my way up to Belvidere this week—it was for the Marines and had a picture of a well-dressed young man, very clean-cut, saluting off to the front of him and next him were the following words:  ‘Commitment to something greater than oneself.’  That is what faith in God is like.  Many churches have chosen to downplay songs and hymns that imply militaristic images with respect to our relationship with God, but in this case the analogy is apt.  Discipleship to God demands that we commit ourselves to something greater than us:  we commit ourselves to God, and to God’s plan for the world.  This means that we are sometimes called to respond with love and compassion to the tragedies that beset the world, whether they happen in our back yard or not.