Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 28 Sept. 2014, Proper 21
Year A RCL: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32
Who gives Jesus the authority to do what he does? How do you get water from a rock? How can you answer a question with a question? Please be seated.
Our scriptures are full of questions. So I have 2 riddles1 about things you have seen. What holds water even though it is full of holes? [Sponge.] What gets wet when it is drying? [Towel.]
Before we explore how to get water from a rock, tell me: What difference do you notice between the 2 samples of wrapping paper you have just received from our young acolytes? [Color, feel, etc.]
What is used to make paper? [Wood.] Can you make paper from a rock? YES! The brown paper is recycled paper. The white paper is made from stone. We use God's natural gifts to make paper.
How does Moses get water from a rock? God uses nature to give water from the rock in the Wilderness of Sin (pronounced SEEN2), which is the Egyptian word for the fortress, the stronghold, that was there & is mentioned in ancient Egyptian texts.”3 Its limestone rocks drip water. Hitting its soft surface exposes the porous inside that holds water.4 It is easier to get water from a rock than to get people to stay faithful to & trusting in God.
This is hard in that Wilderness of Sin & it's hard the wilderness of sin that isn't a place but a way we live. We know this wilderness of sin is a stronghold that separates us from God & each other. In that stronghold we are likely to complain & forget the unmerited grace God continually offers us.
We sing of that grace in our Psalm, which says: I will open my mouth in a parable – a riddle; I will declare the mysteries/the riddles5, – of ancient times. Our Psalm declares God is faithful despite our sin. God's love overcomes our rebelliousness.
God constantly reaches out to bring us into right relationship with God & into unity with each other. God's love that reaches out to all people confuses the leaders in Jesus' day. Here's what Jesus has been doing that upsets the leaders:
- He enters Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday & people joyfully greet him
- He forces money changers out of the temple
- He heals the blind & the lame in the temple.
So the leaders question his authority. They ask Jesus a question. Jesus answers with a question. What kind of an answer is that? It's the kind of answer that shows us when someone throws you a ball, you don't have to catch it.
Then Jesus tells a parable. A parable is like a riddle: it's designed to make us think & see things in a new way – especially to see the mystery of God's love in a new way.6
Jesus tells the parable to the leaders, who say they love God. I wonder if Jesus would tell the parable differently here7 since we don't have a lot of vineyards to work in. We do have lots of leaves that the wind blows around our yards. Maybe Jesus would talk about 2 brothers enjoying their electronic devices at home. Bubba plays a game on his i-pad & wants to finish it. Bo is watching football. Their dad asks Bubba if he'll go rake the leaves & put them in trash bags. He says no, he wants to finish on his I-pad. Dad goes to Bo & asks him. Bo says “Sure”. Dad goes to town to buy groceries.
While Dad's gone, Bubba thinks about what he was asked to do: "I can rake leaves & still have time to finish my game." So he pauses it & goes outside to work. Dad returns, sees Bubba raking & asks "Where's Bo?" "I don't know,” Bubba says. “I saw him watching TV."
Dad goes inside & guess what he sees? Bo's still sitting there watching another football game!
I wonder what their dad thinks about each of his sons. The 2 brothers show us who really does what the father asks. How we respond – what we do – is what counts.
So, if someone asks you by whose authority Jesus does what he does, what do you say? DO you know who gives Jesus authority to change our lives for the better? I think you do.
You & I are blessed: We DO know that God gives Jesus the authority. We say this each time we say the Nicene or the Apostles Creed. We can thank God for sending us Jesus to do what he does to make life whole & beautiful & to help us live in holy unity as God wants us to live.
Our life in holy community reflects the unity of God the Holy Trinity. Our unity is important for us as Christians, who claim to love Jesus, who willingly dies for us on the cross. It is important for those whose lives we touch. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul reminds us our unity is important.
We strengthen our unity here. At this holy table, we gain strength to serve Jesus where we are. At this table we gain confidence that, when we need it, God’s grace will even come unexpectedly like water from a rock.
God fills us with grace at this holy table. God nourishes us with Jesus' Body & Blood that come from natural substances of bread & wine. God gives us these gifts to help us be strong like a rock & open to God.
Our scriptures tell us God wants us to be faithful in our relationship with God.8 Our Psalm tells us of the history of God’s redemption of us... 9 It assures us God has acted in the past, we can trust God in the present, & we can trust God with the future.10
This is Good News that we have to share! God died for the love of us. So how do you respond to God's love? How do you – how do we – respond in situations like Moses & Jesus face when people challenge them? What will help you remember to trust God? How can you remember to ask God for help?
Let us pray. Holy God, help us to build our relationship with you & each other. When we face challenges that seem impossible, help us to remember that we serve you – the Creator who makes water come from a rock. We ask this in the name of Jesus, our strong rock. Amen.+
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Broadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press. 1984.
Ellingsen, Mark. Proper 21 | OT 26 | Pentecost 16, Cycle A. http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com Accessed: Sept. 26, 2014.
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2 Scott-Craig, T.S.K. A Guide to Pronouncing Biblical Names. P. 87.
3 Harper’s Bible Dictionary. P. 955.
4 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation P. 142.
6 Harper’s Bible Commentary. P. 470.
8 Broadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. P. 175.
9 Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. P. 146.
10 Harper’s Bible Commentary. P. 469.