Thursday, April 13, 2006

Maundy Thursday Noonday Sermon...

One year ago this very day of this very season, I spoke for the first time to this congregation. I had met Roger a few weeks before at the advice of a mutual friend and after that first meeting, he asked me to preach here for you. And so I met Roger for the second time that Maundy Thursday morning and preached, very nervously, my first sermon here in this Sanctuary at this service. At the time I was a permanent substitute teacher at Johnston High School. In two months though (at the end of the school year), I would become unemployed. In four months I would move to Waco with $7 in my bank account to room with an 8 year old girl in my former landlord’s house. I would pay rent by cleaning house.

Having been unsuccessful in a job search across the country from Austin, TX, and being unable to afford living here any longer, I moved back to Waco, one year after leaving, and returned to my old job of waiting tables for $2.13 an hour plus tips at Buzzard Billy’s Armadillo Bar and Grill-o. I felt displaced to say the very least. I didn’t even return to the church I had attended and worked at the four years I’d lived in Waco. I went with my landlord to church out of convenience and confusion. I had a BA in English and Religion, an MDiv in theology and I was stuck cleaning house and asking “fries or hush puppies?” I was in need of deliverance.

Three days later, I received a call that changed my life.

Have you been there before?

You’re stuck in slavery to an abusive empire and some man shows up claiming that some God cares enough about you to get you out of slavery, and the next thing you know you’re watching locusts fall and frogs jump and cows die and hail rain down and boils spring up so when that man said slaughter a lamb and wipe it’s blood on your doorpost, there was no way you weren’t gonna do it.

What other choice did they have? Remain in slavery? And so with a fragment of hope that maybe they really would be delivered, they wiped that blood across their doorways and huddled inside praying God would pass them by.

For that man Moses had said that an angel of death was coming to take the eldest child, and honestly, that would have been the last straw in their life. Already they’d hid their children, giving birth in caves and with mouths stuffed to muffle the screams to keep the Pharaoh from finding out. He’d already ordered the slaughtering of their children. They’d worked hard to keep them alive and now only blood would save them.

But though the Angel of Death passed by those Hebrew houses that night, God didn’t.

“Pass me not oh gentle Savior, hear my humble cry, While on others you are calling, do not pass me by…”

Have you been there before?

Have you felt so desperate at the loss of a job, the lack of luster in a marriage, the disappointment in a child, the bad news from the doctor that in your bed at night, awake when you should be sleeping, you call out, “please God, do not pass me by!”? Drop, drop slow tears.

Maybe there’s nothing even that dramatic going on. You have a job, an income, friends, but you still feel empty. Or you volunteer and help others and tithe to the church, but you still feel alone. You’re the life of the party, but feel lifeless inside. Life looks good but you feel awful.

“Heal my wounded broken spirit…”

The Passover meal for the Jews reminds them of their deliverance from the Egyptians so many years ago. The evil passed them by, but God didn’t, God stayed present, the great I AM. “My God,” they recite, “You have delivered me…”

But who is in bondage now? Who now needs the blood of protection wiped across their doors? Who now needs a Moses, a miracle, a messiah?

Me. Me. Me.

And them. Them. Them.

Them. The children of Uganda, who are kidnapped from their beds at night, brainwashed through torture and death, and given guns to shoot and kill so that death is now all they really know.

Them. The children of America who get a second rate education because they live on the wrong side of town.

Them. The teenagers on the right side of town who contemplate suicide cause they’re neglected, bored or completely alone in a material world that may fill their bodies but starves their spirits.

Them. The women who can’t get jobs in churches because of their gender. The homosexuals who can’t get jobs in schools because of their orientation. The immigrants who can’t get jobs anywhere because of their accents.

Them. Them. Them.

Me. Me. Me.

We. We need the lamb slaughtered, we need the blood on the cross, we need the deliverance and we need to stop waiting to be that for others.

But not until we realize that God has not done that to us. God has not passed us by. God has not left us neglected. God has not left us un-chosen. We are God’s children, heirs of Christ not only to a someday kingdom, but to God’s kingdom now, called to be his hands, his eyes, his ears, his heart. Help us to believe we can be delivered, oh God, and empower us to deliver others.

The miracles of Moses didn’t permanently restore the Israelites’ faith. They were afraid when they met with the Red Sea, and even after they crossed it miraculously, they grumbled on the other side.

The fish was sure better in Egypt. I’d rather die in Egypt a slave than in the desert from hunger.

Would you really?

I mean really?

How easily we forget from whence we have come. And how sad that we forget that we are moving toward a promised land.

“Pass me not oh gentle Savior” even when I forget what you have already given me. Even when I forget that I am loved by God. Even when I fail to trust and huddle frightened of faith in a God too mysterious for my feeble mind. Do not give up on me when I fail to feed the poor, educate the children, provide for the marginalized. Even when I forget to vote, forget to volunteer, forget to stand up for what is right, to push for the deliverance: physical, material and spiritual of all people, whether they look like me, stand like me, talk like me, or worship like me.

And whether confident or curious, faithful or frightened, I look at the blood on the wooden beams and whisper,

“Pass me not”
“Pass me not”
“Pass me not”

And I hear: I have not. For I AM and ever will be with you.



John Henson said...

Great sermon!

Anonymous said...

you are too good ann pittman. too good.