August 23, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
Have you ever watched the news and had to roll your eyes?
Occasionally, we watch people say things that make us roll our eyes and wonder how they can not know things that most of us would expect to be common knowledge. We see middle class people who are so accustomed to driving a car, that they have no idea how to ride a city bus, city people who have absolutely no idea where the food in their grocery store actually comes from, elected officials who can’t pronounce “Marine Corps” or “Yosemite,” or who say things that make it abundantly clear that they have absolutely no idea how ordinary people live. To be fair, we see this a lot in many different places. The news media often says ridiculous things about people of faith because they have no real background in faith themselves, and it is common, even for people in the church, to misunderstand the lives, and the choices, of people in poverty simply because they have no experience with poverty themselves. But in today’s scriptures, we see a vivid comparison of the disconnected and the connected, those who don’t understand, or misunderstand, and those who take the time to know the people around them. We begin in Exodus 1:8 – 2:10, where we see the disconnection of Pharaoh from his slaves, as well as his daughter from her servants.
8 Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. 9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so, the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.
15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”
19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
2:1 Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, 2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. 3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket [the word used for “basket” here can also mean “ark”] for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
5 Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. 6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.
7 Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”
8 “Yes, go,” she answered. So, the girl went and got the baby’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So, the woman took the baby and nursed him. 10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”
Pharaoh is fooled into thinking that Hebrew women give birth differently than Egyptian women either because he has no idea what women are like and had never really watched a woman give birth, and certainly because he has no idea that his Hebrew slaves are the same kind of human beings as the Egyptians that he knows. Saying that Hebrew women give birth differently is silly, but the Pharaoh’s disconnection from the reality of the world around him allows an otherwise ridiculous explanation to pass. Not long afterwards, we seen a similar disconnection between the Pharaoh’s daughter from the normal life of her people when, rather than wading into the water to retrieve the basket that she saw at the edge of the river, she simply sends a slave to do it for her. But at the same time, we see the connectedness of family when Moses’s sister follows his basked down the river, listens in to the conversation of princess as she discovers it, and steps in to ask if she can help to find a wet nurse for the baby. But faith is about more than a connection to family and in Matthew 16:13-20 Jesus does two things to which we should pay attention. First, Jesus knows that his disciples know things that he doesn’t and is intentional about staying connected. Second, rather than criticize him for being different than the other eleven, Jesus praises and blesses the Apostle Peter because he is different.
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hadeswill not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will bebound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will beloosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Jesus is deliberate and intentional in building connection with his disciples by asking them what they think and what they hear about him from others. While many rabbis and teachers were likely to accept being put on a pedestal and separating themselves from their students, Jesus regularly takes the time to build connection between himself and his followers as well as to encourage that same connection between them. And then there is Peter. Throughout the New Testament, Peter is often seen as the person who says what others had the good sense not to say out loud, or to say things without really thinking them through but, in this case, because Peter is the guy who has always been unafraid to speak up, he is the first one who declares, out loud, that Jesus is the Messiah. And when Jesus praises Peter’s boldness in speaking up, he is also highlighting the need for diversity and differences in the church. That idea is explained and amplified by Paul in Romans 12:1-8, where he says:
12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with yourfaith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Paul begins by reminding the people that our goal is to live our lives as a sacrifice and an offering, to God and we do that by living lives that are holy and which follow the teachings of Jesus and of scripture rather than following the distractions, fads, and popular behaviors of our culture when those behaviors are contrary to living a holy life. After that, Paul immediately encourages us to also live a life of humility and connectedness so that we don’t think too much of ourselves, but recognize that we fit together, within the connected community of God, as pieces of a puzzle that fit together as one beautiful whole. Just as Peter was different, but contributed a boldness that added to their community, each of us have gifts that we bring with us as we join together in community. We all come from different families, different places, different schools, and have different expertise, we all have different abilities and different gifts, so that no two of us are the same. But as we come together in community, we all add to the beauty of the connected whole, just as puzzle pieces of different shapes and colors fit together to make a beautiful picture.
The message of Jesus, and the message of scripture, has been a message of connectedness and diversity long before those things became popular cultural buzzwords in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As we come together in the kingdom of God, we all “fit.” We all have a place, we all have something to offer, and we are all needed. No one is unnecessary, no one is unneeded. All of us are called to be a part of this connected whole and excluding anyone is like finding a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes those puzzle pieces are oddly shaped, or colored differently, and maybe even a little… weird, but the picture is not complete without them.
Maybe you know someone who is struggling to find a place in the world. Maybe you have a neighbor, or a friend, or a coworker, who feels as if they don’t “fit” in the world around them.
And maybe that person is you.
But whoever it is, please take the time to tell them this story. All of us are different. All of us have our own, unique, set of skills, gifts, and abilities and no matter how others might perceive us as being different, odd, or weird, there is a place for you in the kingdom of God, and in this church.
No matter how different, odd, or weird, we all fit in the jigsaw puzzle mosaic of God’s kingdom and that beautiful picture has an emptiness until you find your place in it.
There is a place for you here.
You can find the video of this worship service here:https://youtu.be/yErm-kDf2Qw
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.