Summary: Proper 18, Year A

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[From the steps]

I’d like to take a few moments to start this week’s sermon with a little experiment. Please indulge me for a minute or so…

Close your eyes… Keep them closed. Now do your best to answer to yourself the question I’m going to ask. Once you’re certain of the answer, please stand up... yes, stand up. In the middle of the sermon. With your eyes closed still. Make sure to keep your eyes closed tightly until I tell you to open them. And only stand up if you are 100% SURE of your answer without opening your eyes.

Ready? Here’s the question: What time is it?

[After allowing 5 – 10 seconds for the murmurs to stop, and few people, if any, to stand up, ask the congregation to open their eyes. Meanwhile, have moved from the front of the church to the back. Ask anyone standing to sit down at this point.]

In today’s Old Testament reading, you heard the writer of Exodus state: “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.” The repetitive language of this verse focuses on the month, the year, and the marking of time. And it tells God’s people: this time is for you. The month is measured by the visible cycles of the moon. The year progresses according to the alternations of night and day, work and rest, and seasons of planting and harvest, rain and dryness.

[Move from the back to the pulpit as this is read] Later in Exodus, the writer talks about God’s commandments for festivals of first fruits and harvests. The festivals anticipate a future in a land that God has promised. To arrive at the future, the people must first leave their past – they must leave Egypt. Their departure from Egypt marks the beginning of their future and their freedom. And so the whole calendar must now find a new fixed point of origin. For God’s people, all of time originates in, is oriented to, and commemorates their release from slavery. Time for God’s people is now “freedom time.”

[Now at the pulpit again] Many of you found it difficult to accurately judge what time it was when I asked, because you couldn’t look at your wrist or your phone. You weren’t sitting in front of your computer, your iPad, or your TV, where clocks are predominately, and even obtrusively, displayed on a constant basis. In today’s society, time is judged by the clock. But you could just have easily said that it was harvest time and been completely correct.

How much of our lives today are regulated by clocks and calendars? Someone might ask us, “What do you like to do in your free time?” We laugh, and often answer, “Free time? What’s that?”

What calendar are we using? What is its origin? Does your year begin in January as the calendar suggests or in September as the school year starts? Labor Day unofficially draws the summer season of rest and relaxation to an end, and we seem to turn a page in our book. No big flashing ball descends in Times Square at this time of year, but there is an air of freshness, a new start, a new beginning on the road of life. Maybe your year begins around Thanksgiving… at the end of November, the church begins preparation for Christmas by beginning a new church year with the start of Advent. Are you ready?

On the surface, this week’s Old Testament reading is about the Passover, but look more closely, and you’ll see that it’s about freedom from slavery, new beginnings, and leaving the old behind. It seems very appropriate as students and teachers begin a new school year and parents settle into a new routine for another school year.

Let’s look together at a bit of what has happened in the Exodus story since the reading last week in Exodus Chapter 3. Those of you who have watched The Ten Commandments can probably fill in the gap by remembering the movie. But for those of you who haven’t seen the movie, here’s the 1-minute version: the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, and after Moses saw God in the burning bush, he talked to Pharaoh and told Pharaoh to “Let my people go.” Pharaoh responded by requiring more out of the Israelites while cutting the resources they had to do their work. Moses complained to God about Pharaoh’s treatment, and God revealed that when Pharaoh didn’t listen to Moses, he would lay his hand upon Egypt and bring the Israelites out of the land with great acts of judgment. As a result of Pharaoh’s ignorance, God sent nine plagues upon the land, ranging from a bloody river to hoards of frogs to swarms of insects, from diseases upon livestock to diseases upon humans, from thunder and hail to total and utter darkness over the land.

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