Face To Face – Never Since

‘A Relationship with God.’  It is a vernacular of much of the Christian community and finds its roots in the fairly recent history.  Abbie and Billy just sang of it in the Sandra McCracken song,

I cannot see him, But oh how I love him. I cannot see him, but I believe, I know he walks with me. I believe, that he walks with me.

Merle Haggard sang of it as well, 

And the voice i hear falling on my ear, The son of god discloses. And he walks with me and he talks with me. And he tells me i am his own. And the joy we share, As we tarry there, none other has ever known.

A relationship with God is a tough thing to quantify. He is unseen, seldom heard, He seems absent in our difficult days and no where to be found in the midst of our loneliness.  Moses expressed the same frustrations. It is in the life of Moses, that we see a most intriguing relationship with God.  In fact, our passage tells us, there has never been a prophet with a similar relationship since.

Our Deuteronomy passage this week brings us the the death of Moses. The story of Moses is significant from the moment of Moses’ birth all the way until his death.   It is the tale of learning to trust and follow God.  A tale of a human who was willing to take off his shoes.

His life begins with the bold and risky moves of three woman who deliver the deliverer of a people.  Incidentally, this is also the tale of the first female primary protagonists in scripture. 

Moses’ life plays a major role in the three main religions on the planet earth – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.  In addition, most of the other Middle Eastern religions pay some sort of homage to Moses.

Moses spends the first decades of his life living as entitled royalty only to then be rejected by everyone. He, a man who was craving anonymity, was called to be a voice advocating for the oppressed. He is a key character in the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham and a core element in God’s promise of a people and a land. He is central to the establishment of the religion of Judaism.  And, Moses removes his shoes.

The final encounter between God and Moses takes place on Mount Nebo with a view of the promised land.  God kept a promise to Moses – a promise to show him the promise land.  Moses stood there with God looking out over the land of the land of the Canaanites promised to the Israelites.  It was a front row to seat to a land he would never enter. This was also an affirmation of the character of God. Moses, near the end of the journey, tired and exhausted by the complaints of the people, had acted in a disobedient way.  A maverick, disobedient, exhausted leader would have been a disaster in leading the people into the promised land. It was time for Moses to rest, it was time for a new leader. ‘I am the Lord, I will be gracious and I will show mercy’ God had promised Moses.  As Moses looked out over the promised land, God was acting out of that grace and mercy.  Moses was done, he had done all that his calling required, it was time to pass the torch.  God in his grace and mercy permitted Moses rest.

To grasp the calling of Moses we must see it through the filter of Christ.

As believers in Jesus Christ we cannot dismiss the significance of the role played by Moses in our own faith.  God gifts the law to the Israelites through Moses.  You may have noticed that in our readings this morning we had two that sounded almost identical – that is because the words of our Matthew passage were actually the words from God given to Moses from our Leviticus passage.

Word that we know as the greatest commandments,  words that are the summation of the law, words that Jesus said to silence the antagonists. 

‘You SHALL love your neighbor as yourself.’

Leviticus 19:18

A message that humanity still struggles to grasp even today

At Moses’ death, a brief and concise obituary is given,

Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. 

Deuteronomy 34:10

The relationship between God and Moses is described as being unmatched and face to face.  Their’s was truly a discourse, the two would discuss, God would instruct, they would talk each other back in moments of greatest frustration with the people, Moses even confronted God with the promises God had made – it was a back and forth that we can only imagine was God’s intention for the garden.

Possibly, more than ever, the ‘face to face’ description holds our interest even more in this time of pandemic, political fear and unrest.  We may be living in a time that has more in common with the days of Moses than ever before. The question lies in the hebrew words

panim el panim  –  literally means face to face

These Hebrew words describe people talking and interacting literally ‘face to face’. They are words that mean exactly what they say…face to face.  These two spent as much as a month and a half, just the two of them, sitting arguing, debating, listening, encouraging, confronting, comforting. It was intimate, they were both fully present and fully invested. But, how could Moses be panim el panim with God?  A human is incapable of handling a face to face with God.  For 6 months we have struggled with the how of panim el panim –  an previously ordinary action that threatens life. God and Moses had to figure it out just as we have had to figure it all out. It was a burden but they did it, we don’t really know how, but they did, and it worked, – theirs’ was a very unique relationship for a very unique time and situation, as is ours.  Working together to figure out the mechanics of a panim el panim when the very act of panim el panim was is always a challenge but God uses it to strengthen our relationships.

Moses was called to unify a divided people so that they could be a functioning people ready for the difficult transition to freedom.   God’s plan called for a unified people – a unity that God would use to break the hardened Pharaoh. God’s calling of Moses was in the midst of Moses ordinary daily routine, a moment just like all other moments, however,  this moment would become a holy and defining. It was a moment that could only begin when Moses removed his shoes.

Moses said, “I must go over and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that Moses was approaching the bush, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” Moses said, “Here I am.” God said, “Come no closer! Remove the shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Then God introduced himself to Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Exodus 3:3-6 

In those few words of introduction the limitations and restrictions to be overcome are given, the recognition of God as the ‘I Am’, the holy nature, and most importantly the invitation to enter into the relationship. 

‘Remove the shoes Moses, for you are standing on holy ground.’

Moses was not a religiously educated human, nor were the people religiously savvy.  There was little known about God other than the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.  They were a people holding onto a centuries old promise. Taking off shoes was huge.  Being on holy ground was mysterious.  A bush was burning that did not burn up, an angel and now he was being spoken to by God.  Moses remained, shoeless, vulnerable, not invisible, hands over his face, on holy ground.

This was the origin of the genuine relationship between God and Moses.  Moses accepted this relationship as he removed his shoes. “Take off your shoes Moses.  You are standing on Holy Ground.”

Thousands of years after Moses took off his shoes, another man named Martin Luther King stood on the holy ground of the Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee.  It was the the evening of April 3, 1968 and King unknowingly was about to preach the final sermon of his life, for the next day he would be assassinated by a gunman. As he spoke he harkened to that moment of Moses on Mount Nebo as God showed him the Promised Land. King preached

‘We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity. It’s alright to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter. I’ve been to the mountaintop. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.’

God’s call to deliver the oppressed did not end with Moses, nor did it end with Martin Luther King. It was the call Jesus gave to his apostles, it remains God’s call on us today. It is verbal call to us from God, it is the post ascension work of the apostles and all those who have come before us.  It is the call to us to follow God and imitate his work of grace and mercy in a world that has forgotten to love others, a world that has failed to bring justice to the oppressed, to reveal hope to a hopeless world.

The command remains the same for us that was given to Moses.

‘Remove your shoes, you are on holy ground.”


Our holy ground is our homes, our work, our front yards, it is at the grocery store and the restaurant, it is on the road and it is in the voting booth, it is in our churches, it is across town, across the nation, across the oceans, all over the world – wherever and however we are panim el panim in the midst of life.  

We are on holy ground.

Take off your shoes.

Let’s Pray

High Risk

On Saturday, March 4, 1933, Americans were nearing the end of the Great Depression. This had been brutal period of almost four years as the nation experienced upwards of a quarter of the population unemployed while many had lost everything. It was a truly depressing and fearful time for  society.  This newly elected president Franklin D. Roosevelt, stood on the east portico of the capital building facing Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes.  Roosevelt’s hand rested on his family 1686 Dutch Bible – opened to I Corinthians 13.   After Chief Justice Hughes administered the oath of office, Roosevelt remained at the podium to address the American pubic in what is considered, by many experts to be the best of all presidential inauguration speeches.

‘In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.’

Roosevelt was calling the people to a same mindedness, to a determination of will with a unified goal of bringing the United States back from the brink.  The President knew that the nation could not survive if division prevailed, fear controlled, and hatred ruled.

The remainder of the speech frankly outlined the problems and difficult solutions, but it was actually his introductory words that have stuck with us even to today.

‘So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.’

Later, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, suggested that the famous phrase was adapted from a 1851 journal entry of Henry David Thoreau in which he had written,

‘Nothing is so much to be feared as fear.’

In these words, Thoreau, followed by Roosevelt put their finger on the root cause of the problems the nation faced, and the problems our nation still faces  – fear.  The fear of poverty, the fear of war, the fear of famine, the fear of inadequate healthcare, the fear of not getting more than others, the fear of those that look different than us, the fear of those who live differently than us, the fear of those who worship differently than us, the fear of those who speak differently than us, the fear of those that come from other countries, those that have a different pigmentation, those that those who have a diet different than us, that drive differently than us, those that dress differently than us, those who values and beliefs are different than us, we fear sickness and death, we fear different political systems, we fear the unknown.

Fear divides us, fear depletes us, fear consumes us, fear paralyzes us, fear pushes us onto the wrong path, fear leads us to run back to our fantasy of past, fear erases our memories, fear capitalizes on our doubts, fear pits us against each other, fear keeps us from noticing others, fear keep us from truth, fear causes us to hate, to react, to label, fear leads us to lay aside the  example of Jesus, fear leads us to forget the sacrifice the Son.

Fear perilously puts us at high risk.

Christ came to conquer fear. 

Fear seeks to stop life. 

Christ came to give life.

God invited Moses to join him on Mount Sinai to discuss life, primarily how to live life.  The talk is referred to as the ‘Law’, but the word ‘Law’ does not translate well – our idea of ‘Law’ elicits a response of ‘how do I get around this?’ or a ‘let’s look for the loopholes?’, but this ‘Law’ was, and is, a gift.  The discussion wasn’t a ‘get your life in order’ talk or a ‘get these people in line’ lecture but a constructive and positive, ‘this is how to live in this creation’ given by the creator himself. An exclusive discussion between Moses and God the creator – giving the ‘how’ to live in his creation.  It was obvious to Moses, and probably all humans, that up to this point, they have failed miserably at their attempts to figure it out on their own. It was a gift to be invited to this discussion with the creator, Moses knew this, the people he was leading did not.

Moses sat with God on Mount Sinai as the two were discussing life. Not in metaphysical way, but in a ‘Here is how you do it’, way for a humanity that really had no idea how to do anything except to survive. See, God was moving the people to a ‘Get up and walk in peace,’ way of life.

While the 2 sat up on the mountain, down below the people returned to fear.  They had spent their entire lives justifiably living in fear, their parents and grandparents had known no other existence, it was passed down generation to generation without a second thought.  Now, free and delivered from slavery, when they could no longer visually see their human leader Moses,  they automatically to their fear.

Fear is often the most comfortable place to which we can run.  

Fear is always the quickest path back to chaos, disorder, and whatever else defines the opposite of peace.  

There truly is ‘nothing to fear but fear itself.’ 

God interrupted their conversation to let Moses know what was going on at the bottom of the mountain.

‘You’ve been gone for forty days, Moses,’ God said, ‘in your absence, the people have returned to fear and all the emotions and actions that accompany fear.  They have taken the gold which was given to them by the fearful Egyptians and wasted it on the gods of the Egyptians. Aaron has molded a calf out of the gold – since that is what they knew in Egypt.  In looking at the golden calf they began to talk about their old, comfortable gods they had in slavery, the gods they could see, – Aaron recognized the mistake and declared that they were to worship the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but it was too late, the damage was done. They were back in fear mode, they had returned to worshipping a false god.  This has avalanched into a full fledged orgy.’

God was disgusted, he was done with the people, Moses managed to talk God back from destruction.  Moses reminded God that they people were immature, they were not accustomed to freedom, that they had no clue about the peace God had for them, Moses reminded God that these were his people…..and yes, he probably told God that the people ‘are idiots, an ignorance that only God cure.’

Moses went down, the people did not get to receive God’s gift of ‘how to have peace and life’ – but they would later, when they were a little less ‘idiot’ inclined. 

For now, though, the people needed to be pulled back from the brink of disaster, the people needed their leader to help them deal with their very comfortable fear.

Moses came down the mountain surely uttering many words of disgust. 

The only thing that can unite a divided group of people is an irrational fear that throws all truth out the window.  People of faith quickly forget the ‘why’ of their faith and exchange it for truth for fear, fear then unifies  – it exchanges their same minded unity for mindless mob minded division and chaos.

Fear urgently brings chaos – chaos perverts our recognition of value, it diminishes rationale and distorts hope, it fogs our view of God.  It prompts us to throw away the gold of God’s deliverance, it leads us to devaluing of God’s creation and his created – respect, honor, and dignity are replaced with disrespect, hatred, impulsiveness, and  ultimately, lasciviousness and wantonness.  

Fear urgently ushers in chaos. 

Fear is a favorite tool of politicians, religious leaders, your  friends on facebook, the pundits on your favorite cable network, the guy next door, and sometimes even those living in your house. 

Fear is the easiest, and most used, tool in Satan’s toolbox, it is the quickest and most efficient way to divide and conquer.  It destroys nations, organizations, relationships, families, individuals, and churches.  

The only tool of Jesus – was love that accepts and embraces.  Love brings about peace and order.

While fear places us in the category of ‘High Risk’ – peace and order place us in a place of patience, love, faith, hope, and unity.

Peace and order permit us to be of the same mind in what genuinely unifies us. They pave the way for us to be agents of calm, confidence, trust, and hope. They pave the way for others to catch a true hint of Jesus.

This is what is the apostle Paul was addressing in the church of Philippi. He had surmised that the church was at high risk. Two, hardworking, long proven, workers in the church are divided. The issue, for Paul, was that this division would threaten the entire church, they were at high risk of choosing sides, of dividing up, of losing their mind – their ‘same mindedness’.  We are not told what has caused these two individuals to split, only that they have also lost their same mindedness, we don’t need to know, we just know the solution – ‘be of the same mind.’

Two very different mindedness options, two extreme opposites states of life, same mindedness and mob mindedness.  One is guided by the common belief held in the heart and the mind – the other is guided by selfish agendas, raw emotions, disregard for others, vitriol, hatred, and a settling into hopelessness.

Same mindedness reminds us that we are actually attempting to head toward the same goal even when we are set on different avenues of getting there. We can peaceably disagree when we are of the same mind.

The destructive impact of the absence of same mindedness among the two warring individuals in the faith community of Philippi was that it could move the group of believers into mob mindedness.  Taking sides, fighting over stances, adopting the negative feelings of the original two were the exact things that would lead the entire faith community to fear – fear that my side will lose, pride that I am right even if this is not really my fight or my concern, fear that doesn’t need a rationale reason.

Paul speaks of ‘having the same mind’ often in his letter to his friends in Philippi. It can, at times, even sound somewhat cult like, an attempt to make everyone think the same and an effort to hinder the actual thinking of each individual.

As Mitch led our Tuesday Night Bible Project, he illustrated this ‘same mind’ concept in a manner that really allows us, in our time to understand.  He shared that on an American football team, each team has 11 players on the field during play. Off the field, each of these players assuredly have different opinions, disagreements, life practices, background, etc, than each other.  However, once they are on the field, in the playing of the game, they have the same mind – to get the ball, or keep the other team from getting the ball, across the goal line. To be effective, they can give their opinions to a point, but, eventually, one person will have to make the call and the others, to be successful, will work together to move the ball down the field.  If personal selfish, ‘non-same minded’ agendas interrupt, or if disagreements emerge, the game will be lost.  This is same mindedness.

Paul, as he speaks of having the same mind is speaking to, and about, having the same goal line.  In chapter 3, verse 15, he calls on those who are mature.  This word mature is not speaking to an accomplished and completed believer, one who is perfect, but, instead to those who are on the field, permitting the righteousness of Christ to transform them.  It is not a haughty or arrogant position, but a state of ‘becoming’. 

Paul explains, ‘I have not already obtained this nor have I already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.’

Philippians 3:12-14

Much like the coach’s half time speech to the team about working and striving together, not addressing their decisions and opinions – that – will take place after the game, the coach is talking about now, as the team returns back to the field, the team same mindedness.

Same mind – get the ball down the field.  Same mind – keep the other team from getting the ball down the field.

Paul then coaches the Philippians, and us, in practices aimed at strengthening ‘same mindedness’ as he says – 

‘Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

A Name To Never Be Named

Things were different, you couldn’t really name it, but there was a change in the overall atmosphere, it was indescribable. For starters, they were going in a different direction, a very intentional direction. You only had to look were the sun was in the morning to recognize that they were heading south. Jerusalem was south, the paranoid politicians were in the Jerusalem, the south, the power of the religious leaders was in Jerusalem, in the south.  It wasn’t a good direction to be heading.

None of the of disciples had said anything, even though they knew that Jesus was purposely going to Jerusalem.   Still, no one said anything to Jesus, and there was no need to say anything to each other.  They were all thinking the same thing, ‘don’t go to Jerusalem, don’t go to Jerusalem’ – everyday, at the break of dawn they would, once again, find themself heading south, towards Jerusalem.

A lot had happened in a very brief amount of time, it was unusual, and it was the same. Jesus was acting the same towards the crowds, he still had an overriding passion – healing the sick, curing disease, and you couldn’t not see his continual focus on how oppressed they were.  There was always a crowd, and Jesus was always healing and curing, and all of the disciples were beginning to feel the weight of this oppression as everything seemed to be resting on how they were being abused by the politicians and the religious leader.  

The crowd of 5-10 thousand at Bethsaida, up north near the Sea of Galilee, had also been physically hungry, stomach growling hungry.  The disciples were the first to verbally address the hunger, suggesting that it was time they send the people home.  It really wasn’t a heartless plan, this enormous crowd had all been there all day, the line of people needing Jesus’ healing touch seemed to growing rather than shrinking, and, what was most concerning was that Jesus was visibly fatigued, he needed some rest.  Jesus didn’t even entertain the idea of sending the people home, there were too many of them, too many that were sick, and, all of them were suffering, too many that were dying under the oppression.

Oppression.  The political leaders needed to keep the people in line and quiet, in order to could keep their positions of power.  The religious leaders needed to keep the people in line and quiet, to keep the local political leaders happy. The political and religious leaders hated each other, but now, they were pretty chummy, it was a tense yet helpful relationship for both sides.  If the religious leaders kept the people in line, the political leaders were more much more cooperative.  Politicians set up a temple tax which primarily went into the pockets of the religious leaders. The religious leaders knew the arrangement was expedient to their agenda, and that it permitted the religious institution to have an influence in the appointment of powerful persons.  It was a win for everyone, except for the average Hebrew, the Jews.  They had to periodically go to the temple to make their offerings and sacrifices.  This was expensive, they had the travel, the lodging, the food, they had to take off work, once they got to the temple they had to pay the temple tax, then, they had to pay for the sacrificial animal. The people were oppressed, and their faith leaders, and institution, were responsible for the suffering.

There was a lot of hurting, and Jesus, was incapable of not noticing and addressing hurting, pain, and oppression. The hunger of the people had not escaped Jesus notice, his response to the disciples suggestion of sending the people home was to say, ‘you feed them.’  All twelve of the men were dumbfounded at this demand, 

‘With what?’ They asked with a hint of indignation.

Jesus didn’t seem offended by the tone of their questions, he didn’t even really seem to notice the blatant sarcasm, he just asked, ‘What do we have?’

‘We, what do WE, have….’ They were all thinking, however, again, no one said it, ‘WE don’t have anything, WE didn’t bring anything!’

Instead of speaking, all the men just stared expressionless, sometimes no expression communicates more than any form of expression. Eventually, Jesus said, ‘Are you sure that we don’t have anything to feed them?’  

It was Andrew who finally spoke up about a boy who had offered his five loaves and two fish his mom had packed for him. It was a sweet offer on part of the little boy, it would be a  touching sentimental story to tell folks back home, but really , five loaves and two fish for this crowd?  That was probably not even enough to keep the little boy going for the rest of the day.  

It was one of those moments when you expected Jesus to say, ‘That’s nice, now, seriously, what else do we have?’

But Jesus didn’t said that, he didn’t dismiss the sacrifice of the little boy, he didn’t even hint that Andrew was wasting everyone’s time. Jesus thanked the boy, took the food, and sure enough, he fed the crowd.  But, even after their stomachs were full, they the crowd stuck around, it was getting late.  The people still needed Jesus to heal them and they needed his peace to survive the  oppression they lived under. So, that was then Jesus sent the disciples ahead while he stayed with the crowds until all went home.

That was typical Jesus.  Everyone mattered, everyone had a name, everyone deserved health, freedom, respect, – everyone deserved to be known by their name. Jesus knew all their name, he knew every person because every person deserved to be known.

Later, Jesus asked the disciples what names the people were giving to him, his disciples were quick to answer, ‘John the Baptizer’, ‘Elijah’, ‘Jeremiah’, were all offered as answers.  Jesus listened to these and all the other names the they had heard.  With every answer Jesus would nod, a signal that he had heard the answer, he didn’t seem disturbed or bothered by any of the answers, afterall, it hadn’t been very long since the religious leader had called him ‘Satan’.  Once you are given that name, no name is going to be more offensive.  Jesus looked down at the ground, he was thinking, it was obvious that this discussion was not over.  After a short time of silence, he rose his head up again, he had a look of love and embrace on his face and in his posture, which was now accompanied by a something much deeper yet unhurried, there seemed to be a new urgency in his tone.  Jesus looked around, locking eyes with each of the men, still communicating love and respect, then after connecting with all twelve men, then he looked back down at the ground.

‘Who do YOU say that I am?’ He asked as his head moved up to the point where, once again, he was looking each of the men in the eye. The question was met with silence.  This was a dangerous question to answer, it was dangerous for the disciples, and all answers would be dangerous for Jesus. There were always curious ears; there were always profiteering eavesdroppers.  Some of those present were not sure that they thought, some would still be doubters and unsure all the way to the ascension.  Many had a good idea of what they believed, they were hesitant to put it into words however.  Everyone knew certain words, words like ‘God’ and ‘Messiah’ would be the final straw for the religious leaders – A rabbi convincing his disciples that he was the Messiah, or worse, that he was God would be an undeniable call to action, very bad actions.

So, the awkward silence persisted, Jesus continued to look at them.  His look didn’t seem to be condescending, but, instead, concerned. His expression completely changed when Peter couldn’t keep quiet any long, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’  This seemed to be a huge relief to Jesus, his expression changed from concern to hope.  Peter, standing on this truth of understanding of who Jesus is, that he was going to be able to grab hold of the faith God gave to him, was the affirmation that Jesus needed..

Jesus even changed Peter’s name to ‘Rock’.

This made the next name Jesus gave to Peter all the more shocking. Jesus called Peter ‘Satan’.  Peter had finally spoken out, saying to Jesus what everyone had been thinking. 

‘You can’t go to Jerusalem, we have to turn back towards Galillee! You can’t let this death happen to you!’ This all came after Jesus had told the men about his death and resurrection.

Peter was now called ‘Satan’ by Jesus.  The name you never want to be called, the most horrid name that Peter could ever hear.  ‘Satan.’

Peter didn’t want Jesus to die, none of the men did – however, they would understand later, Jesus had to die – in order to be resurrected, he had to first die.

Peter despised this ‘dying’ plan, it was painful, for Peter , for the others, and especially for Jesus.  Peter may have been sincere, he may have thought he had pure motive, but, he was trying to get Jesus to step onto a different path.

Early on, when Satan tried to finish Jesus off early but was met with failure, he had vowed to return to Jesus, he had promised to show up at another ‘opportune’ time to tempt Jesus again, an ‘opportune’ time had arrived.  This time, however, he used Peter.  Peter, with good intentions, was trying to protect his friend Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.  Now, even the best intentions were not enough to keep Peter’s name from being changed to ‘Satan.’

Names are wonderful and names can be a nightmare.  Just ask Peter. Just ask Moses. 

1,500  years earlier, another man dealt with a troublesome name, this man was Moses.  Mosheh, in the hebrew, or Moishe, in yiddish, or Moses (or Mes) to the  Egyptians.  The Etymology of these three forms of the same name are still a struggle for linguists today. For the man named Moses, during the time of the Hebrew slavery in Egypt, it was a unavoidable metaphor for the personal struggle of his own life.  A struggle he was never able to escape.  Moses, a Hebrew child who was placed in a basket into the Nile River, by his mother and sister in order to save him from the edict of the brutal Pharoah to kill the Hebrew children in the Nile river, was rescued by the daughter of Pharoah, and then raised in the Pharoah’s palace as an Egyptian male, a family member in the family of Pharoah, raised as a man of great privilege and authority.   

Here is the problem with this name Moses carried.  Pharoah’s daughter, Bithiah, basically created the name Moses, by putting two word roots together, the first was ‘son of…’ and the second part was ‘I drew  out of the water.’ Basically, she intended the name to say, ‘this is my son, and, I drew him out of the water,’ However, she made a grammar error, basically in spelling and the ‘I drew him out of water’ basically became ‘he will draw them out.’  The Hebrew, or Yiddish understanding of the name is similar, a one word explanation is our word ‘deliver’, with the added meaning of the word ‘water’.  The meaning of the name was also, in Hebrew traditions, ‘those who are saved.’ 

This Hebrew and Egyptian name etymology tells the story of the battle that went on in Moses himself.  He was considered a son of an Egyptian, living in the home of the very ruler that wanted him to be put to death as a child, and, was rejected by his own people, the Hebrews. Add to this, his attempt to deliver another Hebrew, further alienated him from the Egyptians and the Hebrews. He was a slave and a master, an oppressed person as well as an oppressor, a protector and a murderer, he was a man on the outside of everything, a man now accepted by no one, a man who no longer belonged, a man who could no longer go home, a man  who was known but who’s greatest desire was to not be known. He was a man on the run.

Soon, he found out that not only was he known, but, that he was know by God, who knew his name.

‘Moses, Moses.’ God called out, ‘Take your shoes off, you are on holy ground.’ 

God then introduced himself to Moses.  It seems ironic that an iconic religious deliverer like Moses had to be introduced to God, but he did.  As the discussion continues, we realize that even the Hebrews needed an introduction to God.  It has been four hundred years since Joseph, 400 years since the talk of, and dependence on, the God of Joseph.  This God, the God of Joesph, the God of Jacob, the God of Isaac, the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, the God of the Hebrews, the God who knew Moses name, the God who knew each of the names of the Hebrews, the God who had not forgotten them.  The God who had heard their cries, cries sent out into the unknown and to the unknown – God was now sending a deliverer.  That God was sending a deliverer who’s name was  Moses.

‘They are going to ask who your are,’ a surprised, hesitant, and fearful, Moses said, ‘What is your name, how do I identify you to them?’

‘I am God,’ God responded in the same way any one responds when their title is their name, s name that is truly, and only, owned by no other being, ‘tell them my name is ‘I AM’.

So, God, was sending Moses to the place he never wanted to return to, in the same manner, God was sending Jesus to the very place that his disciples knew he should never, ever, go near.  Both men were given the same mission, a mission to deliver the oppressed.  

The oppressed, it is a very strange word.  If you have not ever been truly oppressed, which is probably true for everyone hearing this message, then you cannot identify, you can not sympathize, and you definitely are incapable of empathizing – seldom do even even acknowledge a need to understand the impact of oppression on another.  For the Hebrews who were now slaves in Egypt, the path to becoming oppressed had been so gradual that they didn’t even recognize it until it was too late, until they could do nothing except send a cry out into the universe.  

For the Jews that held the attention and compassion of Christ, oppression had come at the hands of their rulers in cooperation with their religious leaders, the authorities had paved the road to this state of their lives, the people had accepted this because they had blindly trusted, and accepted, the lies of their leaders.

Oppressors are good, they know how to manipulate and divide, they know how to make those they are going to oppress nameless, they call them liberals, radicals, thugs, rapists, drug dealers, murderers, killers, worthless, anything that is quickly interpreted as ‘bad’ even though the intentional meaning is never questioned, and their attacks are seldom critiqued.  Oppressors that are good have eliminating those that will questions their lies, it is all part of a well oiled campaign to subtly accelerate the oppressive process.

The one most effective way to counter oppression is to know the names of those being attacked and oppressed.  The Egyptians did not know the Hebrews names, they accepted the labels expressed by Pharoah, the Politicians did not know Jesus, they accepted the labels of the religious leaders.  Fear mongering, lies, conspiracies, slander, are all proven techniques of effective oppressors.  Keeping people from knowing each other’s name is usually the most effective path.

This was the final straw that pushed the Chinese Communist party leaders to take forceful action in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.  They were fine waiting the student protestors out, however, when all the other groups began to enter the square, groups the leaders had worked diligently to keep divided though the use lies and hateful labels. As these previously divided groups of people began to interact, as they began to know each other’s name, as they began to reject the hateful labels they had received from their leaders, the party officials realized their power was threatened. They took action.

When Peter was given the name ‘Satan’ a truth about himself was revealed, he realized that he was putting himself above all else, he recognized how he was allowing the true Satan to use him at an opportune moment.  This horrible name opened his eyes.

A name, tells us a lot about ourselves and tells us a truth about others. 

Ever since they constructed the new road connecting West Lindsey and 36th Avenue, I have seen, almost daily, large damaged areas of the fence.  Sometimes it was obvious that a car had done the damage but most of the time I struggled to understand.  One day I walking the path and I witnessed a man taking the slats out of the fence. I recognized the man, I realized I knew his name, this was ‘Ray’. I knew Ray, I knew his name, I had met Ray while I volunteered at Food and Shelter.  Ray was one of the many clients we served that lived at the river. Ray and I had many discussions, during which he freely shared that he had been given, and chosen, the names ‘unhoused’, ‘homeless’, ‘unemployed’, ‘unemployable’, and sometimes the name ‘bum’  because he ‘didn’t follow rules very well, or at all’, and that, sometimes he had a ‘temper’ which was why every six months he would be fired from the University’s landscaping crews.  As I approached Ray, he immediately recognized me, he even knew my name. 

‘Rick! Can you give me a hand with this?’ He shouted.

He needed my help taking the fence apart.  I had always thought of these ‘fence destroyers’ in less than pleasant terms, now I was one of them.  As I joined Ray in the legions of being a ‘Felon’, which is what I assumed would be the name posted in the Norman Transcript below my mug shot, I asked him why we were destroying the fence.  

Ray explained that, although he considered most of the folks at the river, to be friends, he still didn’t trust them.  ‘No one trusts each other down here,’ he explained.  ‘So, everyday we have to take all of our important stuff with us on our bikes.’ All this important stuff made it impossible to get the bikes through, or over, the fence, so they had to disassemble it to get to their day.

‘I’ve wondered why it is always like this,’ I said.  

‘Yes, it is us,’ he shrugged.

The the eyesore of a fence was now, to me, a sign that a people, a people with names not just labels, had not been considered when the fence was originally placed designed.  Whereas, before I assumed the worst about the broken fence.  I would regularly see the city workers fixing the fence, I would imagine the hateful things they had to be saying about the fence destoryers.  Now, I knew, it was Ray. Now I didn’t hate, it was Ray. Actually, now it was Ray and me.

A couple of months ago, as I was driving by, I saw a city  vehicle with a city worker standing and looking at the fence.  He was walking along the fence and you could tell he was studying the fence.  As I returned, I saw this same man on the other side of the fence, walking down into the woods toward the river.

The next time I drove by, a city crew out working on the fence yet again.  This time was different, this time, instead of just reconstructing the fence, they were building an opening.  Now, I seldom see Ray, or his community breaking the fence, now, for the most part, they are going to the opening.  I think the man I saw earlier, the city worker studying the fence, eventually went down to the river to learn the names of the people previously known only by the level of ‘fence destroyer,’ he find the most used path, and the best place for an opening. 

I think this city worker met Ray, who introduced him to the others, including one lady who had the name JoAnn. JoAnn always, somehow, had an extra pound of ground beef or an array of chicken parts, which, on most good days, she would share with all the others who also had names. Now, these people ceased to be known by hostile labels and now had names.  Now, that they had names, is was much easier to address their need, now, they were a little less oppressed.

Jesus was insistent that his disciples understood the oppression that the Jews were living under.  Jesus sent his disciples out to these oppressed people because that was the calling that the Father gave Jesus, ‘a calling to give them a full life,’  Jesus sent them out so that they could know their names. 

Knowing names is what always brings us to accept God’s call, it always leads us trust the God who calls.

God said to Moses, ’I know you by name.’ God said to the Hebrews, through Moses, ‘I know you by name,’ God says to us ‘I know you by name.’

What names do you know”

Let’s pray.

The Measure of Faith

08.23.20

It took five women to change the course of history.  These five women did what had never been done.  Five women who, as far as we know, did not receive direct instruction from God, still, followed God in the midst of their day to day survival.  Five women took extreme personal risks that they didn’t really have to take.  Five women risked their lives, and, along the way, unknowingly changed the world.  Five women did what their gut told them to do even if it was dangerous, not just for them, but dangerous for those closest to them. Five woman saved the Israelites. Five women saved a group of humans, humans that were a fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, a promise of a people, a people we, today, know as the Jews. 

These five women did this extraordinary feat without any fanfare, without any substantial assistance, without any visible concern for their own safety, without support from, or even knowledge by, their community. Five women who simply stepped out and did what needed to be done.  Five women who acted in historic ways, doing so merely out of their daily existence, their daily survival. Five women who were the sounding pistol declaring that the deliverance of the Israelites had begun.  Five women who saved the lineage of Jesus.

Five women in a story that begins with two men. The first, was a newly enthroned ruler, Pharaoh.

This new Pharaoh was on the throne, a ruler who had an Israelite problem, there were simply too many of them, they were like wild animals in the street, and they were multiplying like feral dogs.  This Pharaoh was brutal and had no appreciation for the Israelites.  His ignorance of the history of his own people was staggering, his focus was himself, he was his own god – this was the god that instructed him how to secure his power, how to eliminate threats to his power, how to eliminate ‘problems’ immediately.  His paranoid ‘god syndrome’ fueled existence mandated that he have all the answers needing no assistance, no one could be trusted, no one – anyone could be fired, eliminated, at the drop of a hat, at the hint of unloyalty, at the need of a scapgoat, the only characteristic of a worthy employee was blind acceptance of Pharaoh as ‘god’. His unwillingness to grasp even the most basic aspects of the history of his people led him to act with blatant disregard and reckless abandon.  In a turn from wiser and the more stable rulers before him, he had no appreciation for, or even knowledge of, the Hebrew deliverer Joseph, nor did he have any respect for the God of Joesph and his people the Hebrews, the Israelites. He had no fear of this God who had shown himself in such a mighty way in the history of his people – his fear was of men, not God, a fear of what men could take from him.

The other male, a three month old Hebrew infant, was named Moses.

But, it was five women who were the heroes of this story, they were the first to be called by God, they were the first to take the deliberate and risky actions, they were the first, in this story, and the case could be made that they were the first in all of the Bible stories up to this point, to step out based on a faith conviction that this was actually not really a choice at all – it was life guided by faith. It was their daily life.

Let’s meet these heroes.

We begin with Shiphrah and Puah, two Israelite women, midwives who served their own people, the Hebrews.  They were summoned out of their day to day existence to appear before this Hebrew hating ruler.  Being summoned is seldom a positive for an oppressed person, it is devastating when it come from a brutal powerful ruler.  Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill all of the male children born of Hebrew women.  These two women who had dedicated themselves to God’s calling to bring life into the world, now were given the order to take that life instead.  However, these women were dedicated to their calling, to life, and more than that, they feared God. They disobeyed, and when summoned again, Pharaoh asked why he is still seeing Hebrew newborn boys. These two women in the work of life were now facing their own death, still, they stood their ground, standing on their faith, blaming the quick labor of the Hebrew women, as the reason for their inability to stop these forbidden births.

Two more Hebrew women, Jochebed, and her daughter Miriam, are the next audacious heroes of this story.  Jochebed had nursed and hidden her son, Moses,  for three months after hearing of Pharoah’s edict to put to these Hebrew boys to death by being thrown into the vicious Nile river.  Ironically, the newborn female infants were allowed to live, they were not a threat – Pharaoh had no clue of the threat of his own misogynistic ingrained prejudices were to his power. Jochebed and Miriam hatched a bizarre plan that would only work if God was a part of the action. Jochebed and Miriam, as ordered by Pharaoh, ‘threw’ their beloved Moses, into the Nile River – however, before ‘throwing’ him into the river, they placed him inside a basket that had been retrofitted to float.  They prepared the basket, they put the infant Moses into the basket, and they let go of it into the river, releasing their control, surrendering it into the hands of a God they didn’t really know a lot about.

Our fifth heroic woman now enters the picture, a woman named Bithiah – an Egyptian, non Israelite, non Hebrew woman who was also the daughter of the brutal and paranoid Pharoah.  She was bathing in the river when she saw a basket floating in the water. Ordering one of her attendants to retrieve the basket she was surprised to find a child neatly tucked into the basket. Bithiah immediately recognized that this was a child of a Hebrew woman, and, presumed that this child had been released into the unpredictable waters of the Nile in order to save the life of this little boy.

It boggles the brain to think of the journey of this outrageous faith engineered plan which called for a mother to save her son by placing him into a basket, then placing the basket into the very river where he was ordered to die, a plan which ended with the child being rescued by the daughter of the very man who ordered the death of this infant, and, ultimately having this child raised in the very palace where this same brutal ruler lived, his own home…..and, all of this, is still decades before this same child, raised in the home of the ruler who sought his death, would deliver the Israelites from the brutally of the following Pharaoh.

We cannot leave this story of these five heroic women without looking at one final act of bravery.  Jochebed, and her daughter Miriam, allowed themselves to be noticed – again, it is best to go under the radar, unnoticed, when you are an oppressed person.  It would be nearly impossible to consider the possibility that Bithiah naively accepted the appearance of Miriam as serendipitous.  In doing this, both of these Hebrews put their own lives, as well as their families and the life of this beloved infant, in jeopardy.  They had allowed themselves to be noticed – this plan of faith required not only risk and release, it required that they place themselves in the crosshairs of a powerful, brutal, and paranoid, ruler.

Five women against a powerful man who was was dismissive and assuredly misogynistic.  Five women who were considered powerless and weak by a ruler that set out to destroy an entire people. Five women who began a movement that resulted in the deliverance of that people. Five women who were guided by faith, five women given the faith to answer the call, five women empowered with the grace to act on the call, five women who changed the world.

Five women whose faith that set the bar for a grown Moses, who, on ten specific occasions would be called upon by God to speak on behalf of God, to confront a man who consider himself to be a god.

So, what is faith? How do we obtain faith? 

We had a family living next to us who had a daughter with a disability from birth.  She was, confined to a wheel chair and, every two years would have to enter the hospital for an extended stay during which she would go through a harrowing physical treatment to attempt to restore her health, as much as possible.  A treatment much like the worst chemotherapy experience that you can imagine.  It was traumatizing for her and her family just to go through this.  She, along with her family, attended a church, where the pastor would often speak of our level of faith being our responsibility, ie. ‘If you are poor it is because you do not have enough faith, if your marriage is failing it is because you do not have enough faith, if your house is too small or you hate your job or your kids are a mess it is because you do not have enough faith,’ and frequently, he would preach in the direct eyesight of this little girl, ‘If you are sick it is because you do not have enough faith’. One Sunday as he began going down the path of this heretical teaching about faith, the siblings of this girl stood up from their seats, and non apologetically moved to the center aisle, turned their sister’s chair around, and pushed her to the exit door.  At the point, the parents, as they shared later, finally realized that they should have done this years before.

When this little girl completed the fifth grade, approaching the summer when it was time for another hospital extended treatment, she explained to her parents that she was ‘done’. She had made the decision to do no more treatments.  When I say ‘ready’ this little girl had a clearer understanding of life and death, of eternity, than probably most adults.  She was truly ‘ready’. The family grieved but understood and honored her decision. By the start of the next school year she had passed away.

This was knowing God enough in life that she was able to trust God in death.  This was having enough faith.

‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.’

Hebrews 11:1-2 (NRSV)

Five problematic words made this statement difficult for us to fully grasp in our English language state of mind, and our own tendency toward a selfish theology when interpreting scripture:

Assurance, Things, Hoped, Conviction, Received Approval

While a greek word study of these two verses written to the early Christians who had a Jewish background would give us a clearer understanding of the meaning of this passage – Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, does a superb job of explaining these words through his translation:

“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.”

Hebrews 11:1-2

Take a moment to look at, and consider, these words again.

“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.”

Hebrews 11:1-2 (the Message)

It was this firm foundation that allowed the five women to save the life of Moses. It was the fundamental trust they had in the known but unseen God (actually for one of the women, God was unseen and unknown) that permitted them to accept the risk of saving this life.

It was this fundamental faith that had consistently allowed this little girl to trust God with her life, now leading her to trust God with her death.

As the apostle Paul is teaching the believers in Rome how to be ready to live like the five women who saved Moses, and, how to be community at the same time, he says, 

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Romans 12:3

This brings us to the issue of ‘Enoughness’.

We are not the master, or developers, of our faith.  We do not grow our faith, we do not strengthen our faith, we do not own our faith, we do not determine our faith. 

Faith is what permits us to answer ‘yes’ to God’s call – whether it is to respond with disobedience to a brutal Pharaoh with a god complex, or to let go of a basket into the Nile River in order to save the life of your child, or to painfully accept your Father’s plan to save the world.  


When God calls, or leads, or intentionally places us on the path where he needs us to be, then it is not a question of ‘Enoughness’, it is not ‘do we have enough faith to answer, or to follow, or to trust’ – it is a question of ‘do we trust the God that we know, to give us the exact needed measure of faith to do what he calls us to do?’.

We end up at Jesus question that Jesus poses to his disciples – ‘Who Do You Say That I Am?’

Jesus was not asking this as a test to see if his disciples had been paying attention in class, nor was it reprimand them for their ‘lack of faith.’ He was asking because he was now heading to Jerusalem, he was at a fork in the road where the direction of his physical journey was lining up with his journey to the cross. While this would ultimately be a solitarily journey that Jesus would have to travel alone, he was fully aware, though, that on the way, his disciples would be at his side.  They would be going as far as they were able to go.  To travel with him the distance they were equipped to travel, they would have to be ready to grab ahold of the measure of faith that God was giving them.  To face the pain and struggles ahead, this faith was going to be essential.

To grasp this faith, they needed to be standing on an unshakable foundation, a foundation of truly knowing God.

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked.

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Peter

Jesus smiled the smile of the Father, knowing that Peter was ready to face the horror that lie ahead, he would make mistakes, but in the end he would realize that he was standing on a Rock.  Jesus proclaims to Peter, “God has revealed this to you! The father has given you enough faith.”

Our question today is – “Who do you say that Jesus is?”