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Sunday, October 26, 2014


A Sermon preached at St. Paul's, Georgetown
Pentecost XX - Proper 25A - October 26, 2014
(the Rev. Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

Track 1

Deuteronomy 34:1-12
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46
Note: I love the little congregation of St. Paul's, Georgetown, and I am so grateful to their rector for allowing me to preach and preside there when he needs some time off. The people are kind and generous and allow me to experiment with "preaching from a prepared heart". No notes. Just standing in the center aisle, "leaning on the everlasting arms". So, here's basically what I said.

I'm so grateful to our visiting organist, Ms. Janice, for that prelude.  You may not have recognized it, but it's a staple in the Methodist Hymnal. "God will take care of you," 
Refrain:  God will take care of you,
Through every day, o’er all the way;
(S/)he will take care of you,
God will take care of you.
It is a great theme song for this morning's scripture lessons.

At the 8 o'clock service, someone asked whether Moses, like Jesus, was born to the task. Was it his destiny to liberate the Hebrew Nation from bondage in Egypt and  lead them to the Promised Land? Just as it was the destiny of Jesus to lead us from the bondage of sin into the promise of Eternal Life?

That led to a wonderful, rich discussion about destiny vs. free will. What if Moses had said 'no' to God? What if Jesus had 'let this cup pass' from him?

Certainly, they had lots of obstacles in their path. What if they had just stopped there?

What if Jesus had allowed the "trick questions" of the Sadducees (which we heard last week) and now the Pharisees to stop him? Instead, he took their trick question and turned it around. Where the intent had been to stop Jesus, he stopped them in their tracks.

And then, there's Moses. When we meet him this morning, he has been allowed to see the Promised Land, but not to live in it. He dies at the ripe old age of 120. 

Do you know why it took forty years of wandering around in the desert before they got to their destination? I wondered that, too, and then I remembered learning about that, way back when, in seminary. I remember reading in Numbers 13:1-33 how Moses sent out 12 scouts to check out the land of Canaan, but 10 of them thought it was too dangerous to inhabit because, they thought, it was inhabited by giants.

You can almost see Moses having a 'face palm moment', sighing, and saying, "Oy!" He figured out right quick that these people - his people, the people God had called him to serve - had lived in slavery for so long they were afraid of freedom.

So, he figured he'd wander around the desert with them until the 'slave generation' died and then the new generation, those who had never felt the sting of the whip or suffered the pain of hunger to be able to fully embrace life in the Promised Land.

As my dear friend, Louie Clay says, "Where there's death, there's hope."

Jesus turned the tables on the wall. Moses followed it for awhile.

Which reminded me of a story my father told me.

My father was not an educated man. He was pulled out of school in the sixth grade to work on his father's farm during the Depression. Then, when he was 18, he was drafted into the Army during WWII and fought on the Pacific Front.

One of the top three things I remember about my father was the nightmares he would have about his experiences in war. My father was also an alcoholic. I believe my father suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and used alcohol to 'medicate' himself from the pain he felt.

Life with Father was never easy, but I treasure this story as one of the few but precious gifts he gave me.

He said he was in the Philippines during WWII and, at one point, he and about four or five of his buddies got separated from their battalion. Before they knew it, night fell and, he said, in the jungle the sky was so dark he couldn't see his hand in front of him, much less figure out their location by looking at the compass.

Suddenly, a wall appeared before them. They couldn't tell how high it was. They couldn't tell how long it was. It seemed to go on forever. 

So, they walked along it, feeling their way in the dark.

They did this all night. In the pitch black night. No knowing where they were. No knowing where they were going. Cursing the wall until exhaustion took over and they fell asleep at the wall.

When they awoke, the morning light was filtering through the trees and, over the wall, they could hear the sound of men's voices. One of the men lifted another man up so he could peer over the wall. When he came down, he was as pale as a sheet. He said, 'Guys! It's the Japanese. The enemy!"

As they all let that truth sink in, they also realized that the very wall they had been cursing all night was also the same wall that had been protecting them all night. That, in fact, without that wall, they might all be dead.

And, my father said, "Elizabeth, never curse a wall. It might be there to protect you."

There are times, in life, when we are on the path we believe God has called us to follow and suddenly, an obstacle appears. And, in those moments, we have a choice.

Actually, we have a few choices. We can stop and turn around and end our journey.

Or, like Jesus, we can turn the tables on the obstacle and stop it rather than have it stop us.

Or, like Moses, we can just walk along it for a while, until the time is right to make your move.

Either way, when a wall appears, it's not the end of the story. You have some choices. Your destiny is dependent upon your free will, your ability to choose how you will deal with the walls life sometimes puts in our path.

And, either way, no matter what you decide, God will take care of you.



Terri said...

I use to think that there was one right way that God wanted me to go and I struggled to "discern" that and try to follow. It was very freeing for me when trusted friend assured me that God will go where I go and all I had to do was try to follow where I thought God was leading me, what I thought was the best course. I love the story your father told you. It embraces the fullness of what we feel when we encounter walls - fear, anger, frustration, uncertainty - and the possibility of opening ourselves to potential instead of limitations.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Terri. My father did not leave me much of anything material or financial, but I have a few wonderful stories which are precious and worth more than much fine gold.

8thday said...

I love what you are saying here about walls, Elizabeth. Walls as challenges, walls as teachers, walls as protection. It is a very positive way of dealing with the inevitable obstacles that come our way. But I do have a problem with statements like “And, either way, no matter what you decide, God will take care of you.”

I’m sure this question has been asked a bazillion times, but if you really believe in a God that takes care of every single individual, how can you reconcile the horrors that even young, innocent children face in this world? How do you tell a 7 year old girl stolen for the sex trades, or 8 year boy, taken from his family and literally worked to death, that “God will take care of you”

I’m sure religious people have an answer for this, but, boy, do I struggle with it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

That is an excellent question which brings up an excellent point about the art and craft and science of preaching: Know thy audience.

The average age of the congregant to whom I preached this sermon was, I'd guess, 74. Maybe higher. As I looked into some of their faces, it was a bit like preaching to my parents. They got to this point in their lives believing this and it works for them. It's their theology. I'm not going to change them.

I would not, however, preach this in another church because other, younger, more diverse congregations know differently. I could have preached that same sermon but simply left out the "God will take care of you" part and it would have played well.

I don't struggle with that "God will take care of you" theology at all. I do not believe in God The Great Puppeteer or Great Magician. I believe in a God who knows our suffering and weeps with us; who knows our joy and celebrates with us.

If "God will take care of you" theology works for you, I will support you. If it doesn't, I will support that, too. I know what I know and, like others, choose to believe what I believe.

It's all about the art and craft and science of preaching.