God is Love – No Ifs Ands or Buts!

Exodus 2:1-10 NRSVue 

1Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman.  2The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. 3When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. 4His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

5The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. 7Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother.  9Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son.  She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

PSALM 139: 1-10, 13-15, 23 

1Lord, you have searched me out; O Lord, you have known me. 

2You know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. 

3You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways. 

4Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether. 

5You encompass me, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 

6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it. 

7Where can I go then from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 

8If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

9If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 

10even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast. …

13For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 

14I will thank you because I am marvellously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well. 

15My body was not hidden from you, while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth. …

23Search me out, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my restless thoughts. 

1 Corinthians 12:4-11 NRSVue 4Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit, 5and there are varieties of services but the same Lord, 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of powerful deeds, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.  11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

John 14:23-29 NRSVue  23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words, and the word that you hear is not mine but is from the Father who sent me. 25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur you may believe.” 

Good morning, St. Matthew!

We gather on this morning in Itasca on the unceded tribal lands of the Kickapoo, Peoria, Ka-skas-kia, Potawatomi, Mya-a-mia, HoChunk, Winnebago and O-che-thi Sakowin nations, acknowledging that hard past and praying our way into a better future.

And so we pray.

Holy Lord, we your people ask you so much for things to be true, for the truth to be revealed. And in your grace, you do exactly that. And contrary being that we are, we then holler that we don’t believe you. And yet you send prophets, examples, and situations to keep revealing that truth we claim to seek. This morning, as we face another revealed truth about the creation of your hands, send your Spirit to calm us, soothe us, instruct us and save us from our worst impulses and our unfounded fears. Open us to the truths that you created us to live in. Open our lives and our hearts to live in the fullness of your truth.

In Your Holy Name we pray,


In preparing for the sermon today, I had a challenge given to me about the verses that the RIC chose for today. Why, was the question, are we talking about Jesus’ farewell in the midst of Epiphany – the season of celebrating Jesus’ coming? It’s a fair question and one that reveals the tension in the story of Jesus among us. There are a number of skilled theologians who hold divided opinions about the Jesus story, and the question boils down to  – did Jesus come knowing he would die? OR did Jesus come knowing that it was POSSIBLE that he would die? If you have a very static view of faith – then the need for God to be absolute and unchanging is central to your understanding of God’s action. It means that from Eden to this moment, everything is planned and following a rigid script. This view is very Greek, and in the Western European traditions, we have been very influenced by this way of thinking.

However, there is another school of thought that is much more based on  Eastern, and Indigenous traditions, as well as the Hebrew traditions that from the Old Testament. In this way of thinking, God’s granting of free will gives to the creation a much larger, participatory role. Ok, it is important to lay some planks for this – in our context in the United States, we have been heavily influenced by what was really about a 30 year fad in faith, which was the idea of God as clockmaker. This concept said God created the world then walked away to let it run on its own, ceasing to have any involvement in it, leaving the created (us) to work it out. In this way of thinking, we have the responsibility to make the clock run; that is our only obligation. This becomes dangerous as it allows us to really see the ends as justifying the means. As long as the clock works – we don’t have to worry about how we made that happen. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to understand that laying that world view alongside a world view of a loving, intimately involved creator was going to lead to conflict – and it did.

Now bring into that mix all the other voices of faith that were poring into what would become the United States. Lutherans were one of those voices – and in Luther’s worldview, we the created are not birthed from God, but birthed within God; meaning that he took seriously Psalm 139 that declares:

Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and night wraps itself around me,”[a]
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is as bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

In that world view, central to Luther’s Reformation, we the believers live, move and have our being within God. So we stand in opposition to the Founding Fathers concept of a distant, clockmaker God, standing outside of creation with a list of rules to follow and expected preordained outcomes. Which means that when we as Lutherans come to the question of what God in Christ was doing, we have a unique understanding of that tension filled question as to what was The Plan. I think it gives us the understanding that God dwells in the possibilities. This understanding is hard to hold onto, especially for those of us in the West. But if we accept that God is in the possibilities – then we are challenged to say that because we are contained within God, all of our possible choices are known to God, but God allows us the freedom and the will to make our own choices.

So in the coming of Christ, God knows all the outcomes that are possible. If we hold this tension of free will, then we live with the knowledge that it was possible for humanity to choose to follow and embrace Jesus. And many did. But it was also possible for humanity to choose NOT to follow and embrace Jesus. So Jesus in his Divinity knows what the possibilities are, but because God has allowed for free will, those choices are NOT foreordained. And that possibility of choice remains active today. And that is why I believe the folks at Reconciling in Christ made these textural selections. To hold up before us the tension of choice; how are we going to respond to the revelation of diversity in our midst? If we believe that there is only one way to live our faith and to respond to God, or if we believe that God is not involved with our choices beyond making sure that we keep the clock running – the question of diversity, change and choice is threatening. BUT if we see ourselves as living in the infinite possibilities that exist within God and having the gift of free will to discern and explore among them – then diversity comes not as threat but as joy.

In the Gospel, Jesus speaks to the disciples about how God’s love surrounds them, and what is available to them if they choose to accept that love. Now hear this – that Divine love is a constant, what is in play is our acceptance of it. At Bethlehem, the conversation comes to us yet again – the same question that God has been asking throughout human history – will you accept this love and participate in it? I will tell you, my mind cannot truly hold that God keeps presenting us with this choice. I mean, we keep messing up the choice to love and embrace grace over and over and over and over, no matter the prophet, no matter the Son of God himself coming to us. But God keeps presenting us with the choice and believing in a way that my limited human soul cannot grasp that we still have the possibility in us to choose aright.

Now there are proof and incidents of us doing the right thing. That evidence takes us back to Moses, and the miracles that God pulls out of his life. You all know that my family is built on adoption; so the story of Moses has deep meaning for me. The tagline of our adoption agency with Harry was “We can’t always change the world for all children, but in adoption, the world for one child will change.”  For my parents, in my adoption, the announcement was “I wasn’t expected, I was selected!” And if you think the randomness of Harry’s and my selection isn’t breath-taking, you should know it sometimes staggers my mind and breaks my heart how close our stories were to being entirely different. I was on board for the orphanage and social services within the month, the statistics in Kazakhstan for unattached children are knee buckling and he too was a month out from that life, when the adoption finalised.

So let’s look at this story of God’s interaction with Moses, knowing that God was working in the possibilities in the midst of some tarrying human made realities. Why was Moses in the river? Because Pharoh had decided to murder all boy children among the Hebrews as they had become “too numerous and prosperous” and this was his way of exerting control. So Moses is in that reed basket floating out, followed by his sister, who had been given the terrifying job of following that basket to see what happened. Hold all those possibilities – know how many other children did die and were lost. But Moses’ basket drifts to Pharoh’s daughter, and her compassion is activated. We are told that the daughter is then approached by the sister and that Moses’ mother becomes his wet nurse. If you are a woman and a mother, you can hear in the story the winks and nods and the actions of powerless women in the midst of immensely powerful patriarchal culture. Pharoh’s daughter almost certainly knew and understood that through her patronage, she was saving this family. She couldn’t do it for all the children, but she could – and did – for this one.

And within all the possibilities, God will use Moses and he will become the hinge between cultures. Moses is the human face of the Hebrews for the Egyptians; they cannot dismiss the Hebrews out of hand because here is Moses, living amongst them, equal in his humanity. It doesn’t quite mean they will understand the humanity of the rest of their neighbours – despite the possibilities offered to them, they do not make that choice – but it means the crack in their prejudice has begun. Moses will make them see the Hebrews – there is literally no one else who would have been able to interact with Pharoh in the way that Moses could. Through the choices of the powerless women, God has worked powerful grace. Pharoh’s own choices will unleash awful consequences – but, again, God allows Pharoh the choice – choose to accept and follow the living God or accept the death that comes from making other choices. We all know the choices that Pharaoh makes and the forewarned, foretold consequences they unleash.

All these examples of how God’s possibilities and our choices work to create the world within God should lead us, as believers to a great care for how we are fashioning that world. The philosopher Erasmus, a contemporary and correspondent of Luther, wrote that “Bidden or unbidden, God is present”. We don’t have to call upon God to show up – we rather have to recognise God is already here! And if God is present always, if we are contained within the Divine, then we need to recognise, as our Eastern and Indigenous siblings do, our obligation to the love that surrounds us. We are given the choice to ignore that love, but we are not able to escape the consequences of those choices. Denying God’s love doesn’t stop it from being; it just blocks us from participating in the possibilities it releases.

So all these possibilities swirl around us. All these magnificent choices to enter into, and to celebrate, the diversity of God’s creation and presence among us. Perhaps now it becomes clearer why the RIC chose these verses; together they lift up for us a celebration of what is possible when we live into God’s love. Many like to say they follow God’s law but throughout the Biblical testimony, God does not ask for lawful behaviour but for loving behaviour. The law comes into play only when we cannot summon enough love to do what we are called to do. We are called to live in love because we exist within love; denying that love to anyone is to deny God.  

All of us are deeply aware of how our LGBTQIA+ siblings have struggled in the past, and continue to struggle today, to simply be themselves. From actual physical attacks to horrid words to a thousand snubs and exclusions, folks in the community have been told that somehow they stand outside of God’s love and care. But that is simply not true! We all exist within God, and are all part and parcel of each other. Like Pharoh and the Egyptians, we unleash terrifying consequences if we refuse to accept this reality. We are continuously presented with the possibilities of diversity. I am going to give you a history lesson that shows how foolish we can be. When prisms were first discovered, it was thought the lights occurred because the glass or crystal was corrupt. Light itself was thought to be pure whiteness. So when Isaac Newton instead demonstrated that light is composed of a rainbow of colour, there were those who felt that he was challenging the established order of the universe. They sought to show him to be wrong – but instead they themselves were proven wrong. Newton was speaking the truth. Likewise, if we insist that God has only one way of creating humanity, employing either/or thinking instead of an awareness that a spectrum of possibilities exist within each of us – we are limiting a limitless God. Love speaks the truth of God and releases possibilities; it then becomes our choice if we will accept that truth and exist in those possibilities.

The Rev. Dr Jacqui Lewis writes:

Telling the truth creates ripples of authenticity that change the world.… 

I believe truth is revolutionary; it’s part of the work of fierce love. Truth makes a personal, spiritual, ethical, and moral demand upon us. It wants to be said, known, told. It hurts and it’s inconvenient, but it’s essential to our well-being. It cleanses our spiritual palate and restores our souls. Truth is a drink of water to a parched traveller. It lubricates relationships. It liberates us from bondage. It builds trust and connections. It’s the beginning of authentic living and joy. Truth eludes us at times, and we have to pursue it. Truth invites us to be honest about who we are, about our flawed-but-beautiful, broken-but-healing selves. Truth leads to reconciliation and peace; without truth, there is no peace. In the light of truth, we are able to honour our journey and love ourselves. Truth-telling is a spiritual discipline that requires practice.

So the choice comes to us today as we celebrate that truth of the rainbow of God’s diverse creation. Are we going to live denying the Divinely created rainbow that exists within creation, unleashing consequences of death and destruction? Or are we going to dance in the light of God’s all-encompassing love, holding our hearts open to the diverse possibilities that, bidden or unbidden, God’s presence release among us?