Monday, October 20, 2014

The Ten Words from God pt 2 Misusing God's Name by Rev Steven R Mitchell based on Exodus 20:1-2,7

The Ten Words from God (series)

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 10/19/2014

Based on Exodus 20: 1-2, 7


        There’s an old childhood saying that all of us are taught, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”   This verse is taught to us as a way to shield us from the pain that can come after someone has thrown verbal stones at us.  Yet what parent hasn’t had to deal with the aftermath of a verbal attack on their child.  Wiping away the tears from their little one’s face and trying to find words of comfort that will help heal the pain and hurt that comes with those words spoken with the intension of demeaning it’s victim.  The truth is, words are harmful.  Words are in reality much more devastating and longer lasting in their impact of injury than physical attacks could ever be.  So why do we tell your children this untruth?

        This morning we are going to look at the third Word from the Decalogue, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses God’s name.”  So the obvious question is: What is meant by misusing the name of God?  When I was growing up, I was taught not to use God’s name as part of profanity.  This was using God’s name in vain. 

        John C Holbert, in his book The Ten Commandments interprets verse 7 this way: You must not raise up the name of YHWH your God for nothing, because YHWH will not acquit anyone who raises up his name for nothing.  Professor Holbert writes: This third commandment has been so trivialized in our own time that it may prove difficult to recapture something of its profound significance.  How many jokes about people playing golf on Sunday, and uttering vile language, suggesting that God’s last name is really “damn,” have you heard or said?  To take the name of God “in vain” as the older translations had it was simply to utter swear words.  This view only places the focus on the human behavior demanded by the commandment.  There is a deeper focus: that of speaking to the matters of the heart.  To employ the name of God “for nothing” is to assume that God is in reality nothing, and possesses no power or authority in life.  The Ten Commandments, by John C Holbert Chapter 3.   What this means is that by invoking God’s name “for nothing” says that God is in reality “nothing” and we in effect are denying the first statement of the Ten Commandments where God is telling us who God is: The God who brings us up out of our slavery

        So what is “the nothing” that professor Holbert is speaking about?  Martin Luther said, “It is a misuse of God’s name if we call upon the name of the Lord God in any way whatsoever to support falsehood or wrong of any kind.” Retired Professor of Old Testament at Yale University, Brevard Childs says, “The heart of the commandment lies in preventing the dishonoring of God…God, as the source of truth, cannot be linked to falsehood and deception.”  The Ten Commandments, by John C Holbert Chapter 3   

        This is where we leave the focus on human behaviors, the do’s and don’ts that keep us from looking at the deeper issue of matters of the heart, where we weigh our behavior by the  true source of truth.  Sister Joan Chittister suggests that the second commandment: … may be more the sin of the pious than the sin of the sinner; it also tells us not to play God with God’s name, with God’s being, with God’s power.”  She concludes by saying, “It is useless, as well, to use God’s name to do what God would never do.” The Ten Commandments: laws of the Heart by Sister Joan Chittister, chapter 2 pg 29

Religion (organized or personal) is a structure that is supposed to help a person move beyond themselves.  Religion is to be used to challenge the narrow focus that each of us by nature has.  Yet growing up in the church I often observed religion being used as a shield to hide behind.  Instead of allowing the vulnerability that is needed to self-examine, it too often is used as a wall to protect our fears, our wounds, and our prejudices.  The problem with using religion in this fashion is we too often start to speak for God and in God’s name instead of listen to God and asking in God’s name.  This is when the pious start using God’s name in vain.

I have heard prayer after prayer invoking God’s name that is truly taking God’s name in vain.  Dear God, as we play against the opposing team, we claim this game in your name.  Or, remembering the Pharisee that Jesus pointed out who prayed: Thank you God that I a righteous man am not like those sinners.  I have read on my facebook , prayers like this: God we thank you today for the death of the Doctor who has been performing abortions, for he has received his due punishment.  All of these are examples of using God’s name in vain because it presume that we know the mind of God and that these requests have placed restrictions upon God as what God is suppose to do. 

When we make statements like: love the sinner, hate the sin, again we are using the intensions of God profanely.  Sister Joan says it best: We use God’s name to prove our piety.  We quote scripture at people and expect that the discussion is over, that when we have spoken, God has spoken. We use God’s name to manipulate God.  We ask God to be on our side, to do our will, to harm the people we ourselves would like to harm.  “Dear God, punish these people for their sins so the world will know how great you are.”  I remember when Oral Roberts pleaded on T.V. for $8 million, because God told him if he didn’t raise it, he was going to take Orals life.  I remember thinking to myself – who cool it would be if God did zap him on national T.V. – that this would be a message that would bring millions of people back to believing in God!  That was taking God’s name in vain.  We pray over and over for the conversion of some Muslim country but never pray for our own countries conversion.  We use God’s name to exert power over others.  We threaten them with hell.  We name them bad and incorrigible.  We use God as a kind of club over groups, over people, and over ideas of which we disapprove.  We use God’s name to satisfy ourselves of our own piety and righteousness, all the while avoiding the hard questions of life around us.  We pray our prayers requiring God to “hear the cries of the poor: and tell ourselves that we have done enough.  Indeed, we have learned to “take God’s name in vain” with great facility.

Sister Joan continues: It’s not so much using God’s name that is wrong as it is that we invoke the name of God to justify ungodly things.  There are simply some things we say about God that are useless, fruitless, futile, ineffectual, and worthless.  To attribute things to God that God has nothing to do with is to make a mockery of God.  Those who invoke God to justify prejudice – to tell us who God accepts and who God doesn’t; to explain oppression – to say that God wills servitude for some kinds of people but not for others; to enthrone absolutism – to say that this country, these rules, this institution is the only one beloved by God. When you hear things like these, you are hearing God’s name being taken in vain.

I want to close these thoughts this morning with a Sufi story about a teacher and his disciples.  The teacher sent his disciples to a tailor to have a new shirt made for the upcoming feast day.  “This is a very busy time and so the shirt is still in process.  But come back in a week.” The tailor said, “And God willing, your shirt will be ready.”  But it was not.  “Come back next week,” the tailor said the second time, “and if God shines on us, your new shirt will be finished.”  But it was not.  “Come back again tomorrow, “ the tailor said, “and if God blesses us, your new shirt will be waiting for you.”  When the disciples explained to their master the tale of the unfinished shirt, the master said, “God back to the tailor and ask him how long it will take to finish the shirt if he leaves God out of it.”

The second commandment tells us to leave God out of it when God has nothing to do with it. The Ten Commandments: laws of the Heart by Sister Joan Chittister, chapter 2 pg 30-31 When we invoke God’s name either for or against something or someone, when in reality we are actually just voicing our own feelings and opinions, we are taking God’s name in vain.  When we invoke God’s name toward social justice but do not follow through with action, we again are using God’s name in vain.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.  I don’t know if you came this morning thinking you rarely use God’s name in vain.  But I do hope you leave here today thinking about the words you do say and of how you say them.  Our hymn of the day, “The Summons” was sung just a few weeks ago at the ordination of John Fiscus.  I have chosen it today as it is a song that calls into action the using of God’s name not in vain but examples of using God’s name as blessing.  Amen

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Ten Words from God (series) Pt 1: An Adventure in Human Growth, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, bassed on Exodus 20:1-7

The Ten Words from God (Series)

Pt 1: An Adventure In Human Growth

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 10/12/2014

Based on Exodus 20: 1-7


        I have always been fascinated by the words of the song, “Is That All There Is”.  To me it captures a sorrowful sense if isolation, of placing trust in things that will not hold up with time, and of turning to escapism in order to bear the pain and sorrow that comes with disappointments, losses, and loneliness.  The song goes through differing events of the singer’s life.  As a little girl she watches her whole world go up in flames, and after the fire is over wonders if that’s all there is to a fire.  Then at the age of 12 yrs old, while at a circus and watching all the glitz and glitter of the show, begins to realize that something is missing, but just can’t quite put her finger on it.  Then she feels the warmth and thrill of love, only to lose it, again wondering if that’s all there is to love.  The end of the song is the most haunting, I think, as she says, “she’s not ready for that final disappointment in life.”    Is that all there is?  If that’s all there is my friend, then let’s keep dancing, let’s break out the booze, and have a ball, if that’s all there is.

        This is not an isolated story to many people, and I would say, possibly even felt more acutely here in a society where there are thousands of options available that we are told will take away the feeling of loneliness, the pain of failed relationships, even the sense of futility that comes with living life.  The old commercial that asked, “How do you spell relief?”  R O L A I D S!
We live in a land that has so many distractions that promise relief, but at the end of the day, we often have not found what we are looking for.  Many of us, like the song say’s, sense that there is more to living life, but we just can’t quite grasp what it might be.  Some of us even go to church in hopes that we will find what is missing from our lives, and yet still find that the answer eludes us.   

        Last week’s lectionary reading focused on what we now call The Ten Commandments.  What I would like to do over the next few weeks is take some time to look more in-depth at these laws that we all think we know and see if there are some undiscovered tidbits that might help us better understand who we presently are and how we might be able to tap into the future possibilities of who we can be.

        The first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before God!  That seems like a given, but the first question should be: How do we know that there is a God?  How can we embrace someone who doesn’t directly speak to us, or embrace something that isn’t tangible?   I hear time to time from people who say they are going through a “faith” crisis; that they just don’t feel God in their lives any more.  There are folks, and surveys suggest that the numbers are growing, who say that they just don’t believe in the idea of God.  What do you say to statements like that?  You can’t dismiss what they are expressing, for this is a reality to them.

        I think much of modern day confusion comes from centuries of miss understanding who God really is, there by throwing people off track, so to speak, when their experiences in life do not relate with what they have been told God is and is about.  There have been volumes of theological writings about God and the essence of God.  But ultimately, the majority of images of God boil down to a spirit of sorts who depending on which side of the fence you prefer to look from, see either God as someone who has created the universe that we know and has long since gone off to do other things, leaving us to ourselves to figure life out, or God is present and actively manipulating events within our world in order to bring about the ultimate design that God wishes.

        But I think Sister Joan Chittister, says it most simply, “God is an experience, not a thing and not an idea. Sister Joan writes: The Koran teaches, “God is the East and the West, and wherever you turn, there is God’s face.”  (have congregation look around the room and then ask what they see.)  If only we could see beyond what God is in ourselves, we could begin to see the wonders of God around us.  The shortest distance to God is not an excursion through all the experiences of life.  It is the journey we take to the center of the self where God waits for us within.

        Whatever it is that you give your life to, that is the shrine at which you adore.  The question is, Is this a big enough god for anyone to spend a life on?  God is always just beyond what we think is god. 

        “God will be present,” a Latin proverb teaches, “whether asked or not.”  God does not “find” me.  God is with me already.  It is a matter of my becoming conscious of the God who has already found me. Pg 22 of The Ten Commandments: Laws of the Heart by Sister Joan Chittister

        For the ancient Hebrews which received these Ten Words from God, the opening line tells them who this God is:  I am your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  As I spoke last week, slavery is something that we all live with whether we recognize it or not.  We may think that we are not a slave to our careers, or to the things that we buy, thinking they will serve our needs, but often times these material possessions become the masters of our time, thought, and money.  These are exterior things that impose their power upon us. 

        When we see ourselves as the center of our lives, we lose a sense of vision of the whole.  So even if someone calls themselves an atheist, there is still a god that will be demanding of them, be it work, or relationships, or even ideals.  For those who recognize a power greater than themselves, in other words, the God of Creation, there is still a danger of serving a god that isn’t the god who brings you out of your own slavery.  As I mentioned just a few moments ago there tend to be two ways in which the average person who recognizes God, thinks of God.  God as “out there” or God as “being beside others”, meaning a separate entity; a view that presents God as Paul Tillich puts it, “as a supernatural God.”  Paul Tillich, who is considered as one of the Twentieth Century’s most important theologians says, “God is not a part of reality, but is “ultimate reality.”

        We often look at The Ten Commandments as laws in which we are to obey.  Yet these are not really laws as there was never any mention as to the remedy for breaking one of these laws.  Rather, these laws were meant to be more principles to live by than minutely defined proscriptions to be followed.  Much like we refer to the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law.  These laws were clearly meant to shape a way of living, a lifestyle, an attitude of mind, for a spirit of human community. Pg 9 The Ten Commandments: Laws of The Heart. By Joan Chittister

        So, the first commandment is truly asking us, “Who is your god?”  What this first commandment actually represents is the basic building block as to how we can structure our life.  I’m not going to start naming ways in which we do put other gods before God.  What I will say is that the First commandment prods us to examine again and again what it is that we have put before God in our lives.  There is no scientific proof that there is a God or that there is not a God.  But what we do have is a low, clear voice within saying always, “There must be more to this than this.”  This is the answer to the question of the song, “Is that all there is?”  God is not found externally.   God is found internally.  God is the experience!  Amen

Monday, October 6, 2014

Only Ten? basked on Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, by Rev Steven R Mitchell

Only Ten?

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 10/5/2014

Based on Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-2


       Last evening I was reminded by a very nice young Jewish couple that it was Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the Jewish faith, as it is the Day of Atonement.  Adding this past Monday’s massive hail storm – I think it appropriate to reflect on the Ten Commandments.  In recent polls of the American public," Gene Tucker observes, "…only a small percentage of Christians can name more than four of the Ten Commandments". Preaching through the Christian   If we see the Ten Commandments as important guild lines to live by, the question should be asked: If we don't even know what they are, how can we obey them?  So, I thought we should have a little quiz to see how we as a group can name all Ten of the Commandments. 

        In the progression of the story of the Hebrew people, we can recall how they are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  It was Joseph, the son of Jacob, the one sold off into slavery by his brothers who actually was able to provide a place of refuge and safety for his family as a great famine occurred.  So, the descendants of Abraham found themselves in the land of Egypt, living in security with a loose understanding that this was blessed by the hand of God.   Then a few generations down the road, once there was no more memory of Joseph by the Pharaoh, the Hebrews became enslaved by the Egyptians.

        Through a man named Moses, God rescued these slaves and guided them through unknown territory, providing protection and food.  Eventually they found themselves at the foot of Mt Sinai.  It was there that Moses went up to meet with God and received these Ten Commandments.  It must have been something to behold for scripture says, “When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance....”

        We as a society really dislike the idea of having rules and regulations.  We often look to rules, contracts, and covenants as being restrictive, rather than being a freeing agent.  When we talk about the concept of “discipline”, our first thoughts are generally in terms of punitive actions; something that takes place when we step outside of a set boundary.  Yet discipline is needed in order to active a given goal.  For example, if we wish to be able to read we have to become disciplined in the alphabet and in the learning of words in order to be able to read.  The same is true in our career choices.  We need to become disciplined in the skills that are needed in order to perform in the field we have chosen.

        My eldest grandson wants to be an aeronautical engineer.  According to his mother, he has yet to understand the need for the discipline of studying and the value of having at least a 3.9 GPA, so he can become accepted into the University of his Choosing.  In fact, he often resists the boundaries that his parents place on him.  Boundaries that will help him to succeed in his life’s goals.  God in many ways is like a parent.  We are made in God’s image; therefore, God knows that we operate best with boundaries.  In order for us to live life to its best, we need to understand what is best for us.  I believe that is what the Ten Commandments are intended to active.  We as Christians are lucky Moses only brought down ten from Mount Sinai.  By the time Jesus was ministering, there were 613 laws to live by; the majority of these laws centered around worship in the Temple.  With the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., there are only 271 laws that can be followed and acted upon for a devote Jew.

        I suspect that most of us feel that we follow the Ten Commandments or rather that we probably don’t really directly violate them.  This might be true.  But I wonder if we were to examine our heart’s and our actions more closely, would we truly find that we don’t violate these specific laws that God gave to us?

        For example: the first commandment tells us who God is.  It is God who brought us up out of Egypt.  What do you mean brought me up out of Egypt?  I’ve never stepped foot out of this country, let alone visited Egypt.”  Egypt has become a metaphor for the meaning of “enslavement.”  For folks who have gone through any kind of a recovery program, they will tell you what being a slave to alcohol, sexual abuse, or drug is all about, and how their “higher power” has helped bring them out of that slavery; bringing them up out of Egypt.

        The next commandment is to have no idols.  In our affluence as a nation, we are confronted daily with idols.  Walter Brueggemann writes powerfully of these temptations: “We have always lived in a world of options, alterative choices, and gods who make powerful, competing appeals.  It does us no good to pretend that there are no other offers of well-being, joy, and security.  In pursuit of joy, we may choose philosophy, in pursuit of security, we may choose military might; in pursuit of genuine love, we may choose sex.  Clearly these choices are not Yahweh’s.  These are not gods who have ever brought an Exodus or offered a covenant.” UCC Sermon Seeds, Oct 2, 2011 

We are told to remember the Sabbath day.  This is a word that has become lost in our culture.  How many of you tell friends, “I go to church on Sundays?”  How many of you say to friends, “On Sundays, I go to worship” instead of using the word “church”?  When was the last time you kept the Sabbath?  Or maybe more accurately, “what does keeping the Sabbath mean?”  Traditionally it goes back to God working hard for six days and then resting on the seventh day, reflecting on all that was created.  The Hebrew’s were delivered out of slavery which was a seven day work week.  Now God through the Ten Commandments was asking them to take one day out of the week and keep it holy, so that they could reflect on their relationship to the one who was not only their God, but the one who freed them from their oppression!  The word Sabbath goes much deeper in meaning than just “doing church.” 

        Now we come to an easy one – don’t commit murder!  Yet what happens if you are in the military and we as a country go to war?  Does the killing of the enemy fall under the definition of murder?  Mae West during a confrontation with the HAE’S commission on the topic of “immorality”, specifically about her innuendo’s, spoke a great truth when she told them, “Sending our boys off to kill one another is immorality!”  And yet there are many ways to kill a person without physically killing them.  We can kill a child’s spirit by demeaning them on a daily basis; we can kill someone’s character with slander or malicious intent, or even with idol gossip. 

Jesus when questioned on which commandment was the greatest, his response was twofold: “Love your God with all your heart, mind, and soul; the other is to love your neighbor as you would love yourself.”  That sounds pretty straight forward.  Jesus has taken these Ten Commandments and brought them into two basic groups.  Four of these commandments deal with our relationship toward God, the other six refer to our relationships with other people.  So, what happens if we don’t know how to treat ourselves with respect, or kindness, or with honor, but rather treat ourselves in negative ways that brings harm to ourselves.  Are we supposed to treat other people the same way?  The truth is we will treat people exactly the way in which we treat ourselves.

What the goal of these commandments is about is to help us focus on life outside of ourselves.  It provides disciplines for “best living” practices.  We are to remember, recognize, and then give over ourselves to the parent God.  Once we have done that, we are then able to relate to others in a healthier manor and look at the world through the lens of how God sees each of us.  If we can get these Ten Commandments under our belt, I don’t think we would have need of those 613 laws that the Hebrews came up with after the fact!  My challenge to you this week is to reread these Ten Commandments and take time to think about how we probably too often offend them simply because we haven’t taken the time to examine them.  Amen.   

By the Staff of a Shepherd, based on Exodus 17:1, 3-7 & Matthew 21:23-32, by Rev Steven R Mitchell

By the Staff of a Shepherd

Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 9/28/2014

Based on Exodus 17:1, 3-7 and Matthew 21:23-32


        Earlier this week as I was preparing for today’s reflection, I was once again captivated by the Moses story.  So much so that I got out the epic movie The Ten Commandments, as interpreted by Cecil B DeMilles and watched it.  This movie has it all, the hero, the villain, love, rejection, murder, conflict.  It even has special effects: the burning bush, a pillar of fire, water turning red, staffs turning into snakes, invasion of frogs, the parting of a sea, fiery hand of God writing commandments on stone tablets, it has everything a great story teller needs. 

In the final scene of the first act (and you will not find this in any scripture), Moses comes back from the mountain top experience of meeting God in the burning bush and announces to Joshua that he must go back to Egypt to free the Hebrews.  Joshua says that he will go and gather up enough swords to give to the slaves, so they might have weapons to fight for their freedom.  Moses says, “No!  The staff of a shepherd shall lead the Hebrews to their freedom.   What a powerful statement the writers of the Ten Commandments made when they had Moses say, “The staff of a shepherd shall lead them to their freedom!

        Over the past 10 to 15 years, I have become fascinated with what we call the Old Testament; which in reality should be called the Hebrew Scriptures.  I have come to realize there is a great richness that helps me in understanding a more holistic nature of God and my relationship to God that does not come from just reading the Christian scriptures alone. 

Over the past couple of weeks we have been reading about the events in the life of Moses and how God used him to lead the Hebrews out of slavery and help form a new nation.  I grew up listening to these stories in Sunday school and through sermons.  I was taught how Moses was put into a basket and set afloat in the Nile, where the sister to the Egyptian Pharaoh discovered him and adopted him as her own son.  As a young man Moses finds out the truth that he wasn’t Egyptian by birth, but a son of a slave.  Then Moses commits murder of an Egyptian while defending a Hebrew slave and flees to a far of land where he living in exile.  It is there that Moses encounters God, accepts Gods invitation to go back to Egypt and lead the Hebrews out of Egypt to a land that is promised to them by God. 

It is in the Exodus stories that we base our Eucharistic rituals upon.  It is in the Passover meal, that Jesus gives a new meaning to the original Passover; the night that the angel of God came and took the life of the first born in the land of Egypt, passed over the houses that had the blood of a scarified lamb painted over the mantel of the door.   Even as Christians, we celebrate this event in what we call Maundy Thursday. 

This morning’s scriptures focus on the topic of “authority” and of “trust.”  As we read about the Exodus story we can easy become weary with the Hebrew peoples constant complaining to Moses about God leading them from bondage where even as slaves there was a certain security of having food and water, into a wilderness where there was no sense of security.

One of the pieces to this story that I think we need to be aware of is the relationship factors between Moses and the Hebrews, the Hebrews and their God, and of Moses’ relationship with the Hebrew God.  First off, Moses even though he was Hebrew by birth was Egyptian in essence.  He was raised as a royal, the Hebrew were slaves.  The Hebrews understood themselves as children of God because of a birth right.  They were the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who had a direct relationship with their God.  Moses on the other hand, had no prior teaching about the Hebrew God.  It would take a direct experience with God in a burning bush, before he truly believed in the God of his ancestors.  It was through this experience that Moses received his authority to challenge Pharaoh’s claim to the Hebrew people. 

Yet throughout the many years that Moses was leading this band of nomads, he was constantly having his authority challenged by those he was leading.  With each challenge Moses would go and complain to God about how God’s people were challenging his authority.  God would then tell Moses how to handle the situation and then everything would calm down until the next crisis.

From the beginning of Moses great quest to free the Hebrews from Egypt, there was a constant challenging of where did Moses’ authority come from.  Moses himself asked God, how was he to gain the trust and cooperation of God’s people?  Moses continually had to prove to the Hebrew people that it was God who had chosen him for the task of leading the Hebrews.  So, what we are reading about in part is a relationship building of “trust”.  Trust between the Hebrews and Moses, trust between Moses and God, and most of all, trust in a faith that God will look after them, even when things are going poorly

We haven’t progressed that much from this story.  When something goes wrong in our lives, we instinctively look for something or someone to blame our troubles on, forgetting all the blessing that we have received from God in the past, forgetting to remember that even during times of trial, of hurt, lose, and pain, that God was there along side of us, walking each step of the way with us. 

Our Gospel reading also shows Jesus’ authority being challenged.  His authority was challenged against the standard of Moses.  Were Jesus’ activities keeping within the Mosaic Laws and traditions? Well let’s see: he associated with the unclean, ate with sinners, and worked on the Sabbath; I would say he wasn’t keeping with the laws of Moses.  Jesus did not have a physical staff that Moses used as a symbol of his authority.  Rather, Jesus said he had been baptized by the prophet John to do ministry.  Jesus had a healing ministry that showed his authority, he was able to help people leave a life filled with pain and loss and become a whole person again.  When questioned about situations, he spoke answers that brought truth about God and the things God desires most for us.  The staff that Jesus used to teach and lead was the staff of “love”, “mercy”, and of “relationship.” 

These two stories of Moses and Jesus lead us into the question as to “what authority does the Church have in today’s world?”  For centuries the church has enjoyed its authority over the general public without being questioned to its validity.  That is not true anymore.  People are challenging the church all the time asking us to prove where our authority comes from.  And this is a right thing that is being asked of us as a religious institution.  What right do we have in providing a voice in moral issues? 

In the parable that Jesus presented to the Pharisees in support of his actions, he asked which son was the “good son?”  The son who challenged his father by saying he wasn’t going to do what his father requested, but then does it, or the son who says, “yes, I’ll do it” but then never carries through?  Of course, the one who did what his father had asked.  What Jesus was telling the Pharisees, as well as us, is lip service isn’t what being a good child of God is about.  Rather it is in the actions of what we do, that are pleasing to God.  When we sit silently watching injustices being done we are no better than the son who said yes and never did anything.  The churches authority, our staff, comes by being not only the voice of God for justice, but also by our actions.  Our authority comes through rolling up our sleeves and walking beside the down trodden, working to change a system that wishes to enslave those who have no voice.

We can grumble like the Hebrew people, kicking our heels all we want when we are challenged with what God is asking.  We can even say “No”, but eventually if we want to be the people that God is asking of us to be, then we will have to open our hearts to listening and then incorporate what the Holy Spirit teaches us.  

We are in good company when we as a voice and hands of God are being challenged.  Moses had a physical staff to show that God gave him the authority to lead His people.  Jesus’ staff was that of working among those who most needed help, and by standing up to Rome saying, “let my people go.”  Our staff is of authority comes in reaching out as well to those who do not have a voice, who are disenfranchised, and also saying to those in power, “let my people go.”  Silence is not the life of Gods people.  Picking up the shepherds staff is our call from God.  Amen