Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Readings – Exodus 14:10-31; Psalm 114; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35
I am sure that we all have seen the classic poster that first appeared during World War I. James Montgomery Flagg who used his own face created it. He wore a blue jacket, a white shirt, a red tie, and a white top hat with a blue band with a white star. He looked right at you and pointed a finger at you. The caption sometimes varied, but always declared, “I want you”, for the U.S. Army or the U.S. Navy or the Marines. Uncle Sam was recruiting, recruiting people to lead, to join the team dedicated to victory.
Three of our readings this morning are about leadership, about moving forward with purpose, about leadership for the benefit of the community, not for any individual’s personal benefit. Three of our readings this morning are about communities in crisis, about communities facing difficult times.
St. Paul wrote to the early Christian community in Rome. There were divisions over Kosher regulations, what to eat, what to avoid, about vegetarians and those who would eat anything. There were divisions over which day to gather, on the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday), or on the Day of Resurrection (Sunday). There were divisions over the discipline of fasting. St. Paul wrote –
We do not live for ourselves, and we do not die for ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord… we are the Lord’s…. Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Why do you despise your brother or sister? …each of us will be accountable to God.
Remember Paul, he incited the riot that lead to the stoning to death of Stephen, the first martyr of the Church. Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus where he was going to arrest other followers of Jesus. Yet in his blindness, he was cared for by the very people he persecuted. This Paul, this man, was recruited by God; this man joined in God’s purpose; this man partnered with God, and this man lead the people of God.
Then there was St. Peter. He thought he was being so good. “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times? [That is well beyond the teaching of the rabbis of the day.] Jesus said to him, not seven times, but, I tell you seventy-seven times.” Peter was a fisherman, a small business owner, we think. He would learn all about forgiveness! On Maundy Thursday in defending Jesus, he cut off the ear of a servant of the high priest, and then he was rebuked by Jesus, and told to sheath his sword. Then, before daybreak on Good Friday, a matter of hours later, he denied knowing Jesus three times before the roster crowed. Peter came to know forgiveness. And Peter was recruited. God said, I want you! I want you to lead the Church; I want you to walk in my ways; I want you to join my purpose; I want you to partner with me; I want you to be a member of the People of God.
Recruit number three for today is Moses. Though raised in the Pharaoh’s household, he learned of his ancestry. As a young man, he came upon an ugly scene of an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, and Moses intervened and killed the Egyptian. He then fled into the wilderness, crossing the Red Sea. There he married, started a family, and one day when out with the flock came upon a burning bush. Moses was recruited by God to go back to Egypt, and to say to the Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, let my people go”. And Moses responded in chapters three and four of Exodus with I can’t do that. Besides, who shall I say sent me, God, I do not know your proper name. And they won’t believe me. I am not a good speaker, “slow of speech and slow of tongue”. And God said, I will be with you.” So, Moses went, together with
Miriam and Aaron, they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground while the pursuing Egyptians, their horses, and their chariots were drowned in the sea. The Lord God said to Moses, I want you! I will be with you as you lead, as you partner with me. I will be with you as you lead to freedom your brothers and your sisters. I will be with you as you walk in my ways, and as you guide my people.
Paul, Peter and Moses, recruited by God, imperfect as they were. God said, I want you.
How about us? We, too live in divisive times. We, too, are not perfect people. We, too have our doubts.
A persecutor of the Church, an inciter of a riot and a murder.
A swordsman who struck another and a denier of Jesus.
A murderer, perhaps a stutterer, one with little self-confidence, and one with a temper.
I know God is still recruiting in our own day. I know God is still looking for people to partner with. I know God is still looking for women and men to walk in his ways, to pursue his paths and to pursue his purposes. I know God is still looking for members of the community of faith. And God is still saying, I will be with you. I will be with you, day by day by day.