The Eighteenth Sunday after the Pentecost, Year A
[Texts: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Psalm 19; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46]
An Unlikely Choice
Please pray with me:
O Lord, take my lips and speak through them;
Take our minds and think through them;
Take our hearts and set them on fire with love for Thee. Amen.
“First things first,” God tells the Israelites. “I am your God. No one else. You don’t get to worship anything that isn’t Me. I’m your God, and you are My people.”
In a world– our world– where monotheism is the norm, this doesn’t seem like such a radical statement.
But think about where the Israelites are coming from.
They’ve been living among the Egyptians for generations,
much longer than any of them can remember.
And this whole “no other gods” thing totally flies in the face of everything they’ve seen during their time in Egypt.
The Egyptians, as you may know, worshiped just about everything:
certain types of beetles,
(not to mention their giant, confusing pantheon of gods, demigods, kinda-sorta-gods, and re-incarnations of gods that would make anyone’s head spin…)
all considered divine.
And then, here comes the God of Israel,
having just delivered His people from Egypt,
and He says, “You’re not going to be like those Egyptians. You’re going to do things differently. That’s part of our deal.”
Now, as the Israelites have been kind enough to remind us about a thousand times since they began this little adventure in the wilderness,
those Egyptians, they have it pretty good back in Egypt.
They’re back there sleeping indoors in permanent homes,
they have a land to call their own,
they have delicious food and plenty of water,
(and– oh, yeah– there’s that minor detail about not being lost in the desert for forty years.)
But, are they the ones that the Creator of the Universe has decided to claim as His special, chosen people?
God instead chose the Israelites–
this motley crew of ex-slaves wandering around in the wilderness,
to be His people
to claim and to bless,
to enter into covenant with,
to call His own.
Israel is hardly the pick of the litter as Ancient Near Eastern civilizations go.
They’re the kid that always gets picked last for dodgeball,
the team that’s 0 and 18 at the end of the season,
the living embodiment of the phrase, “Bless their hearts.”
And that’s what God does.
He blesses them,
and sends them forth to be a blessing to all the nations.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians,
we hear the story of someone who once persecuted the Church
until his gifts and zeal were repurposed after his conversion to help him spread the Gospel far and wide.
And then in St. Matthew’s Gospel,
we hear Jesus talk about the stone which the builders rejected–
the stone which eventually became the chief cornerstone.
this story of God taking the unlikeliest people and situations and things
and re-purposing them for His glory,
What if it’s not just the story of desert nomads,
or the conversion of a misguided Pharisee,
What if this story is our story?
What if the things about ourselves–
about our lives,
about our stories,
about our circumstances–
that we wouldn’t have chosen,
or might like to reject–
what if those are the very things that God is going to choose,
and use in ways we can’t even begin to imagine?
My sisters and brothers, this is our story.
This is our identity.
And this God–
this God who tells us,
“For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress,”
this God is our God,
and we are His people.