Pastor Sherry’s message for August 23, 2020

Scriptures: Exodus 1:8-2:10; Ps 124; Matthew 16:13-20

This story falls under the category of “truth is stranger than fiction”:  Back in the mid to late 300’s, there was a slave in Egypt named “Moses the Black” (330-405 AD). He was a tall, intimidating Ethiopian, who stole from his Egyptian master.The master also suspected of him of murder.Rather than sell him off, the master fired him and threw him out. So, Moses the Black joined a gang of thugs. Almost immediately he became their leader, and for years his band of hoodlums terrorized folks along the Nile River Valley.

At one point, Moses the Black attempted to evade the law by hiding out in a desert monastery.  He thought he was pretty clever to take refuge in a church, but the joke was on him–as he encountered Jesus and gave his life to Christ in that place.  Perhaps even more incredible is the fact that 4 of his former gang members—not realizing he was there—decided to rob the monastery.  Moses the Black completely overpowered them (making a citizen’s arrest?), tied them up, and dragged them before the abbot.  Because he didn’t slit their throats, the thugs were so moved that they too gave their lives to Christ, and became monks as well.

Legend has it that he was martyred, as an old monk, by a different band of robbers who did not know Moses the Black’s reputation or his conversion story. The former robber, murderer, and adulterer had been transformed by God into a Christ-following teacher and priest. Interestingly enough, the former gangster who had lived by the sword also died by the sword. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church has proclaimed him a saint.

Isn’t it interesting who God chooses to do His work?  Often it is some pretty unlikely persons! Our Old Testament lesson, Exodus 1:8-2:10, introduces us to Moses’ backstory. Moses was born to an Israelite family, from the tribe of Levi, working as slaves in Egypt. Almost 350 years after the death of Joseph–the one God used to save the fledgling Israelite nation and Egypt from a massive famine–the new leadership in town had no gratitude for the Hebrew who saved his countrymen and women. The new Pharaoh (Ahmose? Rameses?), who either didn’t know the history or didn’t care, ascended to the throne of Egypt. He looked around and saw how numerous the Israelites had grown.  Here is the outworking of the promise to Abraham from Genesis 12: his descendants would outnumber the stars or the grains of sand on a beach. God would see to it that they would become a “great nation,” and they have indeed. This new Pharaoh was afraid he and his countrymen were vastly outnumbered by Hebrews.  So, he decided to contain any threat by enslaving them.  He worked them hard and harshly.  Even so still they seemed to multiply.

As the story unfolds today, Pharaoh is concerned that the Israelites are reproducing too rapidly. He calls in the head Hebrew midwives and tells them to go ahead and deliver any girl babies, but kill the boys (this is one time in ancient history when it paid to be a female). The midwives are wise; they fear/respect God more than they do Pharaoh. They refuse to practice male infant genocide. Pharaoh notices that male Israelite infants are surviving and wants to know why. The wise midwives claim Hebrew moms are very hardy and complete the birthing process without calling upon them.

This is no doubt a lie, but it seems to prevent Pharaoh from exacting revenge.       

Moses is born in the midst of this national birth-control strategy. As a male, he should have been euthanized. However, his mom, Jochabed, rears him to 3 months. Then she places him in a carefully water-proofed basket and sets him adrift on the Nile. In an amazing twist of fate—like Moses the Black, thief and murderer becoming a monk—Moses the Levite is spotted and rescued by Pharaoh’s eldest daughter. Childless, she decides to raise the child as her own son. Miriam, his biological sister, has been watching over him and suggests a woman to nurse him, the baby’s own biological mother, Jochabed, for pay! How ironic, and how like our God to place the future deliverer of Israel within the very household of Israel’s chief oppressor. A Hebrew slave will learn the Egyptian language, culture, history, and military strategies. God has once again placed one of His own into a position of authority and influence in Egypt. Whether Pharaoh realizes it or not, God is also demonstrating that Pharaoh will be impotent to destroy God’s people or His program (developing the lineage of Jesus).

Psalm 124 is a Psalm of Ascents, sung by Jewish pilgrims on their way to the Temple Mount to celebrate one of the major feasts.

They praise God for His protection of them in the past. They worship Him for having protected them just as He did Moses.

In our Gospel lesson, Matthew 16:13-20, our Lord commends Peter for both recognizing and testifying to whom Jesus really is. Remember, Jesus is still outside the borders of Israel, this time in aRoman resort/retirement town, 2 days’ walk north of the Sea of Galilee.Simon, inspired by the Holy Spirit, asserts that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God—a Deliverer even greater than Moses. Jesus commends him and He renames Simon as Peter, or we might say, “Rocky.” Jesus Himself is the “ROCK”—but it is on faith like Peter’s and on believers like Peter that Jesus will establish His fellowship, His Church.

In addition, Jesus proclaims that (V.18)… the Gates of Hades/Hell will not overcome it [His Church]. The deaths of believing individuals will not extinguish the flame of the Church, just as Satan did not kill off the Jews through either slavery or Pharaoh’s schemes. No one person, or groups of persons, can thwart God’s plan and program.

Next, Jesus gives Peter (the apostles, the early church, and us) (v.19) …the keys of the kingdom of heaven: authority to preach and teach the Gospel. Roman Catholics claim Jesus was hereby making Peter the leader of His Church (the 1st Bishop of Rome, the first Pope) and authorizing him to forgive or fail to forgive sins.  Others—primarily Protestants–interpret this somewhat differently: If we, as Jesus-followers, loose or proclaim God’s truth on earth, the powers of heaven will support our efforts. As it says in Isaiah, God’s word will not return to Him empty.  Teaching and preaching the Scriptures will result in bringing many into God’s Kingdom. But if we bind it on earth (fail to proclaim or prevent its dissemination), the Church will not live into its destiny.

Last week, I asked us to consider who gets saved.  This week, I hope I have drawn your attention to who God picks to work in His program of redemption.  He appears to pick the unlikely: (1) The reprobate, Moses the Black, becomes a major force forChrist in the 4th century Church as a teacher, pastor, martyr, saint.  (2) Moses–born to Hebrew slaves–is nurtured and educatedunder Pharaoh’s own nose, then used by God to free His people.  (3) Peter, who takes his eyes off Jesus, resorts to violence in theGarden, denies Him three times, and fails to show up at the Cross to support Him, is selected by God as a leader in the 1st Century Church.

The beauty of all of this is that God picks unlikely, even weak and flawed people to carry out His program of redemption. He trains us up. He strategically places us. He chooses and uses folks like you and me.

What’s really amazing to me that He puts so much trust in us.

Let’s agree to live into His trust and to assist Him in His goal to bring the lost to Christ. This week, look for opportunities to tell those who don’t know Jesus (1) Who He is; (2) How much He loves them; and (3) How knowing Him has changed our lives for the good.

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory thru our Lord, Jesus Christ!  Alleluia, Alleluia!

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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