First Presbyterian Church
Rev. Lou Nyiri
September 24, 2023
Psalm 8; Matthew 28:16-20
This morning, I want us to spend some time thinking about The Trinity.
I want us to pause for a moment to appreciate and celebrate the inter-connectedness of the Godhead – Father / Son / Holy Spirit – Creator / Redeemer / Sustainer.
Jurgen Moltmann, German Reformed Theologian and Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the University of Tubingen, has said, “[the story of the gospel is] the great love story of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, a divine love story in which we are all involved together with heaven and earth.”
The Reformer Martin Luther is attributed with the following quote, “To deny the Trinity endangers your salvation; to try to comprehend the Trinity endangers your sanity.”
I will not seek, today, to define the Trinity – I will not seek to explain the Trinity – my ambition and goal today is to draw us into the mystery of the Trinity AND how that mystery empowers us to go forward in this world.
Our Matthew text this morning is helpful in this regard, in that it is not seeking to explain Trinitarian theology – rather it is helping us to talk about the God among us – at work in us and through us – and all the requisite mystery and transcendence that goes along with our encounter and experience with this God who is eager and willing to be known in the every day stuff of our lives.
Perhaps our question today is not so much what we know about this God who is active in ways that are creating / redeeming / sustaining –
Perhaps our question is not even how we explain this God who is Creator / Redeemer / Sustainer –
Perhaps our question is what difference does our encounter with this God who is active in our lives in creative / redemptive / sustaining ways make in our lives AND in what ways can we see God’s creative / redeeming / sustaining presence at work in the communities around us AND through us?
In essence, what does our “sentness” – our going out – look like as we follow this calling to go into the world and to bring the good news to those we encounter along the way.
In what ways are we involved in the COmission of Jesus – that is mission with one another and the one of whom Matthew’s gospel declares at both the beginning and the concluding chapters – is God with us!
They shall name him Emmanuel which means God is with us. – Matthew 1:23
And remember I am with you always to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:20
The good news of this news is that we are not alone – we are joined together – by one another and by the God who calls us into this endeavor.
We don’t have to have it all figured out – in fact faith may reside best in the questions – as we persist together in the faith to do the work of God “in spite of” our certainty.
In our text, one of the key phrases – at least for me – is “…and some doubted…”
Amid the doubt – amid the challenge to our confidence in the faithfulness of God – the promise is that God is with us…
This is a recognition of the reality we might find ourselves occupying at various points in our life journey …
– those times when we wonder questions like “how do I hold onto hope?” – in those moments, perhaps our greatest solace is the recognition of the life creating / redeeming / sustaining promise we can hold onto – that God is with us
sometimes God is with us as the one who creates out of chaos /
sometimes God is the one who sustains us /
sometimes God is one who teaches us / redeems us /
sometimes God is the one who calls us, seeks us, shows up at just the right time
– God is with us is a promise we can hold onto wherever we are in this world…
…to the end of the age.
The translation of that phrase the end is interesting.
– it can also be translated consummation – completion – perfection
– this casts the concept of end in a whole new light – it is not so much the end as in eternal – instead it is the end as God imagines the end of God’s revelation
– the end as in the way God knows it can be – there is a perfection yet-to-come that is only known by God.
Don’t we pray it each week in the Lord’s Prayer – “thy will be done…on earth…as it is in heaven”?
And we are called to participate in that ever-unfolding yet-to-be thing God is creating / redeeming / sustaining … that kingdom God is calling into being!
And we are not alone in this endeavor…
“All authority,” Jesus said, “in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. …”
In Matthew’s gospel, “authority” (exousia) is always connected to Jesus’ healing and forgiving acts. People celebrate Jesus’ deeds and words because they recognize he is acting not authoritatively rather he is acting as one with authority – there is a difference:
The former is about subjugation and conquest of the world – it is an exertion of power to control.
The latter is about liberation and service for the world – it is a power to do justice.
Only in Matthew does Jesus say, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ (Matthew 9:13)
Matthew’s Risen Christ is calling people to journey together (with God and with each other) to proclaim God is at work creating / redeeming / sustaining a new reality where people are called to serve the communities in which they reside with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love that they may see beyond racial, ethnic, cultural and religious differences.
That they may become communities which “…obey everything [Jesus has commanded them]…”
What exactly has Jesus commanded?
Just a few chapters earlier, in Matthew 22:36-40, an expert in the law asked Jesus, 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 [Jesus] said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
In essence, our orthodoxy (what we believe) must match our orthopraxy (how we live out our beliefs).
In practical terms, people won’t care what we know until they know we care.
In faith terms, people will know the good news about God’s incarnate love by how we treat them.
One story and then I’ll close.
A New Year Resolution to get into shape hit a middle-aged man and so he decided to start jogging Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings in his neighborhood. He laced up his shoes, stepped outside his duplex and headed north up the block of his street. He took the same route every morning. Like clockwork he’d be out the door and home in about 30-45 minutes.
Something happened on those morning runs – something bigger than merely his body becoming a fine-tuned caloric burning machine. He noticed the people around him. More importantly, he noticed people by recognizing when he didn’t see them in the familiar place.
On his weekday runs he noticed along his route men, women and children lining up in front of the local soup kitchen for a breakfast meal.
On his Saturday morning run he realized something – the local soup kitchen isn’t open and there was no line of men, women and children waiting for their breakfast meal.
Over the next few months, he began to recognize those men, women and children who were outside the soup kitchen were still in the neighborhood on Saturday morning – they just didn’t have the place to congregate on Saturday because the soup kitchen was not open.
Hard as he tried, he couldn’t get the faces out of his head.
And so, one Saturday morning he decided to do something different after his morning run – he dug a Camping Stove out of his basement – went to the supermarket and bought two dozen eggs, some bagels and cream cheese, OJ, Milk, cups and napkins and he went back in front of that soup kitchen and cooked breakfast for some of those men, women and children.
And now he’s adopted a new cool down exercise following his Saturday morning run which involves setting up a portable kitchen on the sidewalk and cooking breakfast for houseless people.
Now, he serves coffee to his friends and talks with them and sometimes even prays with them but even if he doesn’t pray with them, he is always praying for them in his devotional time.
This man’s prayer has become, “God, help me to see the faces of those around me and to see them long enough that I might discern what I could do to help them.”
Creating / Redeeming / Sustaining – that’s what this man offered in that breakfast meal.
Creating / Redeeming / Sustaining – that’s the mystery of the Trinity.
Creating / Redeeming / Sustaining – that’s what we’re called to do as well.
To God be the glory – now and forever more!
Alleluia and Amen.
 Migliore, Daniel L., Faith Seeking Understanding, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1991, p. 60.
 This story taken from Donal Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz.
First Presbyterian Church
Rev. Lou Nyiri
Exodus 14:19-31 / Psalm 103:1-13
We’ve all been there before…standing (metaphorically or literally) in front of some big thing wondering how we’re going to get through it.
For the Israelites in our Exodus story, it was on a shoreline – the sea in front of them and an encroaching army behind them.
What were they going to do?
How were they going to avoid almost certain demise?
Then a way appeared before them – Moses raised his arms – waters parted revealing dry land – they moved forward – they embarked on the journey and made their way through.
As the Israelites come to the shores of this water, pursued by their oppressors, there is chaos ahead and chaos behind – they discover, like that line from Robert Frost’s poem A Servant to Servants – the only way out is through … and God makes the way through.
As we’ve looked at Exodus through the lectionary readings these last three Sundays, it is good to remember that the Exodus stories are about God’s presence and provision in the wilderness – it’s not so much about the people as it is about the God who leads, provides and prepares the way through until they reach the promised land – in fact, the very name of the book Exodus in the Greek means “[the] way out.”
Exodus 14’s description of the Israelites’ passing through the Red (or Reed) Sea is a defining moment in their narrative – one which becomes part of Israelites’ communal memory.
Memory is important for people of faith, as we learned last Sunday when the lectionary took us into the Passover ritual which Moses and Aaron gave to the people as their way to recall the steps which preceded their liberation out from under Pharaoh’s oppressive rule.
It is a reminder for us as well that most defining moments in our lives require a sense of remembrance.
The ability to recall where we’ve been, where we are, and the steps it took to get from there to here.
It’s about remembering our way through the defining moments of our lives.
According to Catholic priest and theologian Henri Nouwen, Christian remembering is, “a choice [that] can only be made on a firm basis of faith, hope, and love with the lived experience of God’s real and active presence in our lives.”
The theologian and writer of Psalm 103 helps us recall this firm basis of faith, hope and love by helping us remember how God has been and is present within the community of faith…
The Psalmist writes that God is:
The Psalmist uses a myriad of poignant, life-giving verbs to describe God’s active presence among God’s gathered community.
In the Psalmist’s words, God:
All of which come together to help form our identity found in the God we love – the God who first loved us – the God who promises to be with us as we make our way through life’s high and low points – remembering also that this presence is often seen in retrospect because when we’re in the middle of the chaos it’s often difficult to see how God is at work – and yet, we trust that God is still at work in the chaos.
If there’s one thing we learn in life it’s this: we aren’t guaranteed (by God or anyone else) that we will not face trials.
Now, I know, this statement is easy to make when we’re talking about someone else’s life.
What do we do when it’s about our life?
A Sunday School class often used the following opener as way for members bridge the gap between life and faith, each member was asked to answer or ponder the question, “Are you heading into a storm…Already in the middle of a storm…or Are you coming out of a storm?”
The key to this Sunday School class check-in, I believe, is learning how to lean-in … lean-in to the people around us and the God who surrounds us all … for, as we lean-in to the people around us, I believe, we begin to see more clearly the God who surrounds us … the God who is present amid the chaos …
I recall the story of a young mother who remarked how in the years following the death of their three-year-old child, “I didn’t know God for many years. However, I knew God’s people, the ones who surrounded me and cared for me and were with me.”
Please do not misunderstand me – I am not discounting this young mother’s experience – for her experience is real – it is authentic – it is true – it is faithful.
What I’m asking us to consider is how do we hold on until we pass through to the other side when we are better able to see hope and joy despite what’s happening around us – even if our hope and joy are lived through the faith of the people around us until we can own our faith for ourselves.
It is about whispering to ourselves and praying on behalf of others until it becomes real:
…that somehow, someway, somewhere God will work within the circumstances we find ourselves.
…that while we don’t know what the future holds, we know the one and place our trust and faith in the one who holds the future in the palm of His hands.
A man sat in worship praying after receiving Communion.
He couldn’t focus on the gift of the day.
He couldn’t focus on the sacrament.
He was lost in a haze.
All he could focus on were his fears about the next few days.
Although the choir sang of God’s presence with and favor for God’s people, all he could focus on was the chaos surrounding his life.
Not finding the words to pray, he simply sat still and listened.
As the soprano descant soared above the choir, tears formed in his eyes.
A voice within him spoke to his fears, “I am here.”
He found himself swept up into the numinous space filled by this infinite Other, One who lovingly spoke to him saying, "Do not fear. I will not fail you. I am with you. I treasure you."
He felt gratitude, hope, and even a sense of joy flow into his present moment from a mysterious world deeper and more wondrous than the one his mind had previously inhabited.
He came to understand the words of C.S. Lewis, “It is the very nature of joy which makes nonsense of our common distinction between having and wanting.”
What we have before us may not always be what we want.
Yet, leaning-in to each other and the God who surrounds us – OR – leaning-in to each other until we can see the God who surrounds us, in this very act of leaning-in we hold onto hope and joy that:
…despite what goes on around us we are looked upon with favor by the God of the universe.
…despite what goes on around us we are treasured by God.
…despite what goes on around us God will not fail us.
Whether we are heading into a storm…already in the middle of a storm…or coming out of a storm, let’s lean-in to one another, that together we will see the God who surrounds us.
Let’s be Everybody’s Church.
To God be the glory, this day, and forevermore.
Alleluia and Amen.
 For link to the poem: https://www.poetryverse.com/robert-frost-poems/a-servant-to-servants
 From the back cover of Worship and Spirituality by Don Saliers, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, PA, 1984.
First Presbyterian Church
Rev. Lou Nyiri
Exodus 12:1-14 / Romans 13:8-10
In her poem Passover Remembered, poet and Episcopal Priest Alla Renee Bozarth-Campbell, writes of the Israelite’s excursion from Pharoah’s oppressive rule into their wilderness wanderings in the following way:
Bring only your determination to serve and your willingness to be free.
Only surrender to the need of the time – to love justice and walk humbly with your God.
Set out in the dark.
I will send fire to warm and encourage you.
I will be with you in the fire and I will be with you in the cloud.
You will learn to eat new food and find refuge in new places.
I will give you dreams in the desert to guide you safely home to that place you have not seen.
The stories you tell one another around the fires in the dark will make you strong and wise.
You will get to where you are going by remembering who you are.
Touch [Tend to] each other and keep telling stories.
[Tend to] each other and keep telling stories.
You will get to where you are going…by remembering who you are.
To these poetic words of Bozarth-Campbell we might add …do this in order to remember whose you are.
Who are we?
Our Exodus and Romans texts help us to see this good news.
In the Exodus text, Moses and Aaron are instructed by God to instruct the gathered community to institute the Passover festival – it is their way of commemorating how the Lord spared the Israelites and prompted their release by Pharoah.
While the release from oppression in the Passover act is significant – also of significance are the mechanics of the first Passover.
We begin with the instruction of verses 3 and 4, “Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it.”
While many English versions of the Bible translate the Hebrew word seh as “lamb” – the word represents a much broader group of animals. A seh is an animal of a flock, the Passover makes room for those who could not afford a lamb to be able to participate in the ritual with another animal – like the more affordable sheep or goat. Additionally, if one’s household was too small to consume the entire animal, they would join their neighbor to participate.
With this instruction, the Passover ritual is a reminder that we are called into the kind of community which seeks the provision for all in the community – for we’re all on the journey together – we’re all children of God – we’re all called to tend to each other – we’re all part of a larger group where everyone belongs.
When New York City was hit by one of the worst hurricanes in history, an individual by the name of Shell, a long-time host on Airbnb, realized that the loss for some people was devastating. As the waters rose and people had to evacuate their homes, many of them couldn’t return for days, if at all.
After the hurricane hit, Shell, “[felt a] hit [her] stomach and thought, people are really getting stuck” and so she decided to go online and list her space for free for those who were in need.
Her action sparked a movement within the Airbnb community whereupon other hosts did the same. Over 400 hosts opened their own homes for free, offering not only a place to sleep, but a connection during a very uncertain time.
Shell also held a food drive for the community right out of her kitchen.
Eventually, people were able to go home again, in the in-between time, Shell, through hospitality, made their lives a little less difficult.
Emily Fields Joffrion, an Airbnb spokesperson at the time, commented on this endeavor, "What's going on in New York, is really hard for people outside to grasp what it feels and looks like. After disasters, there can be a moment when you feel like the world isn't listening anymore. The severity of the situation hasn't gone away, and it's really important for everyone to have a place to go.”
It’s important for everyone to have a place to go…
We’re all children of God – on the journey together – we’re all called to tend to each other – to create a place where everyone belongs – where everyone has a place to go.
After reminding of the call to become a community which provides for one another, Aaron and Moses instruct the Israelites regarding unleavened bread and bitter Passover herbs noted in verse 8 as a way of reminding them of their pain. Then a few verses later (in verse 11) comes the instruction as to how to eat the Passover meal wearing the proper attire and footwear – which is a reminder to be ready to move.
Together these verses recall for the Israelites how their forebears had to leave Egypt in such haste that the dough for their bread did not have time to rise. The bitter herbs serve as reminder of the harsh enslavement their ancestors endured in Egypt.
With this instruction, the Passover ritual is a reminder that we are called into the kind of community which makes room for our pain to be recalled, shared, and carried together.
There's a Latin proverb, quoted by Cicero in his treatise on friendship De Amicitia that goes, "Before you trust [another], eat a peck of salt with [them]."
This led to the definition of a friend as someone who will "eat salt" with us, as in this poem by Rudyard Kipling:
I have eaten your bread and salt
I have drunk your water and wine
The deaths ye died I have watched beside
And the lives ye led were mine.
To “eat salt” with another is a metaphor for crying together or sharing pain or trial with another.
It's about becoming real and vulnerable with one another.
In the classic children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, written by British author Margery Williams, we learn about what it means to be real…
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
To be part of the ekklesia – the church – the gathered community of faith – God’s people – is to be part of a people who understand what it means to be real.
To understand that we’re all children of God – on the journey together – we’re all called to tend to each other – to create a place where everyone belongs – where we make room – to be authentic…to be real…to be vulnerable – as together we share life’s ebb and flow…to laugh together in joy-filled moments and weep together in pain-filled moments.
All of which is captured in the life-changing word – love.
To know we are loved – and in turn – to share that love.
“Owe no one anything,” Paul wrote, “except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:8, 9b)
Author, speaker, and Presbyterian, Anne Lamott talks about teaching Sunday School in the church she attends in Marin County, California. Pre-pandemic, most weeks, her class did something she calls Loved and Chosen. Here is how it goes: Lamott would sit down on the couch in the Sunday school room and look at all the little, wriggling bodies before her. Then she would glance slowly around the room in a goofy, menacing way, and say something like “Is anyone here wearing a blue sweatshirt with Pokemon on it?”
A four-year-old would look down at his chest, astonished to discover that he matched that description, like—what are the odds?
So, he would raise his hand, and she would invite him over to sit on the couch beside her. Lamott would look in his eyes and say, “You are so loved and chosen” as he [sat in wonderment].
Lamott would repeat the exercise, asking about green socks with brown shoes, a San Fransisco Giants cap, an argyle vest. And wouldn’t you know it, she writes, “each of them [in the class] would turn out to be loved and chosen, which, in the world, does not happen so often (Anne Lamott, Grace Eventually, pp. 28–29).
Lamott’s Sunday School opener makes me wonder…
How would life be different if we lived each day knowing/believing there is a seat for us on that sofa where ae are invited (whether we’re age 4, 24 or 104) to sit still long enough to hear that we are loved and chosen by God.
How would the world be different if our structures and institutions were shaped by the belief that every human being is loved and chosen by God.
As we come together, are we:
For when we come together and live in such ways our actions declare to each other you are so loved and so chosen…we become real and we become who it is God knows we can become.
As we come together on the Kick-Off Sunday, may we not forget that God is calling us to create this kind of community.
To God be the glory, now and forevermore.
Alleluia and Amen.
 This poem is Reprinted from The Common Good, No 32, Lent 2005 and can be found at the following website: http://catholicworker.org.nz/the-common-good/passover-remembered/
 —From the Airbnb website, airbnb.com. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
 Taken from CNN Business online article, https://money.cnn.com/2012/11/07/technology/innovation/airbnb-free-housing-sandy/index.html
 Kipling, Departmental Ditties (1886), Prelude St.1.
 Taken from: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/191202/the-velveteen-rabbit-by-margery-williams-illustrated-by-william-nicholson/9780385375665/excerpt
First Presbyterian Church
Rev. Lou Nyiri
September 3, 2023
Exodus 3:1-15 / Romans 12:9-21
In 1990, Bette Midler released an album entitled Some People’s Lives – the 7th track on the album was a cover of Julie Gold’s song “From a Distance.”
Midler released the song amid global conflicts like the Rwandan Civil War, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the ecological disaster of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the deadly HIV/AIDS epidemic – into the cacophony of the world’s fears, Midler’s “From a Distance” reminded listeners that God was not distant from the creation – rather, God was invested in the creation.
The songs refrain spoke into this litany of the world’s catastrophic events:
God is watching us.
God is watching us.
God is watching us.
From a distance.
Listeners were encouraged by the notion that God sees – even if from afar.
One might recognize this “watching-from-a-distance” God from this morning’s Exodus text.
Today’s reading from Exodus 3 – often referred to as Moses’ call story – signals a turning point in Moses’ life.
While Exodus 3 is important, its value becomes significant when we recall its context:
Zooming out, we remember:
Now, in Exodus 3, adult Moses is shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep and has a theophany (theos = God / phaneia = manifestation…to show) – a theophany then is a manifestation of the deity.
Alone in a field, Moses sits, probably pondering the world and life in general … then, he is visited by God.
According to the writer(s) of Exodus 3:7-10, the Lord explains to Moses that as a result of observing the misery of the Israelites, this god will deliver them from the Egyptians and relocate them to a better place.
As the story goes, Moses miraculously leads the Israelites out of Egypt– they enter the promised land – eventually establishing themselves as a vibrant monarchy.
Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey … (Exodus 3:7-8).
The Hebrew found in Exodus 3:7 is a verb form which signifies intensity, emphasis, or certainty of verbal action.
The phrase may be translated as my really seeing or my observing.
A few other biblical translations, get at this when they translate the phrase:
I have indeed seen (New International Version)
I have marked well (Jewish Publication Society)
I’ve clearly seen (Common English Bible)
From this we surmise, God is not caught off guard or startled by the Israelites condition living under pharaoh’s oppression.
Rather, God has been paying attention.
Even if God’s engagement has been beyond the Israelites perception … God has been watching.
How might our interaction with the world around us change, if we, like Moses, began to live in ways which saw God as close enough to observe and act – yet somehow far enough to remain out of reach – and who is calling us to join in the justice work toward healing and wholeness?
If we knew God was observing, how might that change the way we interact locally, nationally and internationally?
Would we use our resources differently if we believed God was watching us?
Would we use our time differently?
Would we use our words differently?
Would our prayers change if we believed that God was watching us from a distance – yet still able to hear our cries and act on our behalf?
How would we tend to see our response to God’s call if we believed that God were asking us to join in the journey toward justice, healing, and wholeness?
This is our theological task – as together and individually we study about God in order to live into who it is God knows we can become.
According to a classical definition, theology is fides [phi-dace] quaerens [qwair-ens] intellectum [intellect-um] “faith seeking understanding” (Anselm).
It is faith venturing to inquire, daring to raise questions.
It is a willingness to engage in conversation with the divine as we seek to understand who and where God is calling us to be the hands and feet of loving actions at work in the communities we find ourselves (whether they are local, national and international).
Faith is never to become a sedative for glossing over what is happening around us, nor is it a grab-bag of cliché responses to the complex nature of life’s deep questions.
Instead, faith prompts us to ask questions; activates inquiry; resists the urge to accept things as they are, and calls us to seek together, with each other and God, what our faithful response as God’s people might look like.
It is about finding the connection between our orthodoxy and our orthopraxy.
Between what we believe and how we practice our beliefs in tangible ways.
How do we proclaim what we believe by living what we believe?
Perhaps, this is where Paul’s words to the Romans offer some guidance.
In this morning’s verses from Romans 9, Paul is shifting the community’s focus. Up to this point in Paul’s argument, love is something that only God or Christ has performed (Romans 5:5, 8; 8:35, 39).
Paul is now shifting toward the redeemed vision of humanity – the ways in which Jesus’ followers will live in response to God’s grace.
Genuine (unpretentious) love is to become the standard by which the community enacts their reasonable worship and renewed thinking as they discern what is the good and acceptable and perfect response to God’s call upon their lives (Roans 12:1-2).
Paul is offering theological scaffolding for the community as they live out the result of their theological work in real time. Their fides [phi-dace] quaerens [qwair-ens] intellectum [intellect-um] “faith seeking understanding” – a faith which is evidenced in practicing genuine love…hating what is evil…holding fast to what is good…loving one another with mutual affection…outdoing one another in showing honor…being enthusiastic in spirit and serving the Lord…”
They are beginning to understand the reality of faith – together we care for each other while extending that same care and hospitality to the people around us – the church is never to become an exclusive club … the church is to be a welcoming community.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin captures this poetically when he writes, “…God awaits us every instant in our action, in the work of the moment. There is a sense in which God is at the tip of my pen [and] my brush – of my very heart and of my thought.”
To live then as the hands and feet of God at work in this world, is to recognize that “…we encounter the risen Christ” as de Chardin puts it, “when we write [and] when we paint.”
It is to understand that wherever we are – whatever we are doing – we are called to be the hands and feet of God at work in the world as we bear witness to the love of Christ at work in this world.
The communion table is a tangible reminder of God’s grace at work in our lives and our grateful response which prompts us to take this same attitude into the places beyond this worship time.
To paraphrase Roman Catholic theologian, William Cavanaugh, “[We are] the wafer [at work] in the world.”
As Christ’s body we gather around Christ’s body to remember God’s first incarnate love Christ’s body so that we are enabled to become God’s ever-inviting incarnate love at work in this world.
In the From a Distance music video, there is a point where Bette Midler sings, “God is watching us from a distance,” looks upward toward the skies, smiles and waves.
It is as if she recognizes God in the distance.
Then she sings,
From a distance, there is harmony.
And it echoes through the land.
And it’s the hope of hopes.
It’s the love of loves.
It’s the heart of every [hu]man.
On this weekend when we pause to remember the contributions of workers, we recall the church’s work is to be a people who bear witness to God’s love at work in this world – wherever we may be.
This is the church’s call – to be a people who engage in faithful conversations to discern where and how God is leading us to be the hands and feet at work in this world by sharing and showing Christ-like love.
A parent was reading the Sunday paper as their young child kept tugging at their sleeve to come down on the floor and play with them. This parent kept indicating one more minute – one more minute – let me finish the paper. The child was persistent. The parent, having an idea to buy more time to read, took one page and tore it into many pieces and handed it to the child saying, “put this page back together and when your done, then I’ll play with you.”
Well, within five minutes, the child was tugging at their sleeve saying, “I’m done. Let’s play.”
With skepticism, then astonishment, this parent looked to the floor and couldn’t believe it – the paper was back together in perfect alignment.
“How did you do that so fast?” this parent quipped.
“Oh, it was easy,” the child said, “on the back of the page was a picture of the world and when I put the world back together the rest fell into place.”
Let love be genuine.
Love one another with mutual affection.
Outdo one another in showing honor.
Contribute to the needs of the saints; pursue hospitality to strangers.
And, the world will fall into place.
To God be the glory, now and forevermore. Alleluia and Amen.
W-5.0105 Christian Vocation
We respond to God’s grace through our Christian vocation. In Baptism we offer our whole lives in service to God, and are empowered by the Holy Spirit with gifts for ministry in Jesus’ name. Therefore we are called to honor and serve God at all times and in all places: in our work and play, in our thought and action, and in our private and public engagements. Such service and love is an act of gratitude for God’s grace.
This has been a particularly important theme of the Reformed tradition: the life and work of every Christian can and should give glory to God. As we honor and serve God in our daily life and labor, we worship God. Whatever our situation, we have opportunities each day to bear witness to the power of God at work within us. Therefore, for Christians, worship, work, and witness cannot be separated.
 The exposition of Exodus 3 is taken from Kimberly D. Russaw’s commentary on Exodus 3:1-15 found at workingpreacher.com the September 3, 2023 publication. Russaw is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
 See Dan Migliore’s book “Faith Seeking Understanding,” page 2 for this discussion of Anselm’s fides quaerrens intellectum, Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1991.
 Taken from David H. Jensen’s book Responsive Labor: A Theology of Work, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 1991, p. 74.
 Taken from Kimberly D. Russaw’s commentary on Exodus 3:1-15 found at workingpreacher.com the September 3, 2023 publication. Russaw is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.