Proper 17, Year A

Bring forth in us the fruit of good works…

How does God talk with you? What does it take to get your attention, to make you stop and listen, to hear? Some people are really good at discerning God all the time. Others, like me, not so much. Too often God needs a 2 x 4, that’s something like the burning bush that is not consumed for Moses. God hears our needs, observes our misery and our joys – God is always present in our life. We don’t always notice it.
In this story from the Hebrew scripture, God is asking Moses to help the people in captivity, to lead them “to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Remember that Moses has fled from his posh position in Pharaoh’s court to become a shepherd in a land far away. As a young man, the adopted son of the daughter of Pharaoh, he learns he is an Israelite and that his siblings and mother are slaves. A few days later he tries to help some of the slaves that are being harassed and ends up killing one of the Egyptian taskmasters. So he runs away – far away. Now God is calling him to go back to Pharaoh and bring his people out of Egypt.
This morning we hear the first of many conversations that Moses will have with God as he attempts to get out of doing this task, and then as he is trying to accomplish the task. Moses doesn’t really have a relationship with the people he is supposed to help. He doesn’t know their names or anything about their lives – he didn’t live with them. Moses does know God. Moses listens to what God wants him to do, and then, reluctantly at first, he tries to do the work that God has given him to do. Moses chooses to serve the Lord, to do good works.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he is encouraging the Christians to listen to the word of God. Society is tough for those people; Christians are persecuted. They are a strange minority religion in a city with many different religions. God sends Paul to give them counsel on how to live a life of good works in a culture that values earthly power and riches. The list of things that Paul encourages them to do, we are encouraged to do today. It is not an easy list. “Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good, love one another…rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer…extend hospitality to strangers…bless those who persecute you…live in harmony with one another…do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly…do not pay anyone evil for evil…if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink…” So which of those things is hard for you to do? What has God been calling you to do?
Jesus is preparing his disciples for what is to come. It’s not a pretty picture, and it’s not the victory that those who have been following him envisioned. They expect that the messiah will triumph over all who oppress the Israelites (much like Moses who leads the people out of slavery to a good land – their own land) and that they will have peace in a land of milk and honey. Jesus sets them straight. The victory is going to be eternal life overcoming death. Our part is to let go of our love of life as society may dictate as successful and live a life that God dictates as successful. Serve the Lord by bearing fruit of good works.
What has God been calling you to do? That might be the wrong question. What is God doing in the community and how can we be part of God’s work? The emphasis is that God is working whether we choose to do anything or not. God does call us, continually. It’s just not always to do something comfortable. In his last Friday reflection, Bishop David suggested that it may be better stewardship to replace our church lawns with gardens. Can you imagine our neighbors’ reaction if we did that – planted lots of tomatoes, beans, carrots, corn, squash? I was talking with the Bishop about this and how I imagined we would get word from the neighborhood association in short order. We talked about how our church should be a reminder – even an irritant – to our neighbors. Our church should be about raising social issues to the attention of the affluent whether they are sitting in the pews or living in the blocks around us. We’re not a social club; we are called to work with God.
Many of you are involved with groups that are already doing this work. We need to hear from you. How are you helping do God’s work in our community? Are there ways that others can get involved, too? Last Sunday I talked about the Community Partnership for Families and the different programs they are developing with recently released prisoners. Some of us got involved with their backpack project. I know that we have parishioners who are members of the Assistance League, coach youth sports, volunteer for Hospice, and other organizations who are working with God in our community. It’s time to let the rest of us know what you are doing.
I am going to put up a large poster in the back…a Fruits of Good Works. There will be pens available. List your name and the work that you do. If you have a picture you can post, please put it up there. We need to see some of the outreach that is being done by members of St. Anne’s. God is working here in Stockton and we have been called to follow. God promises “for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” We can do this – together.

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