Based on Ex 12:1-14, Mt 18:15-20 and Romans 13:8-14
We find ourselves in a season of preparation as summer becomes fall. It started back a month or so ago getting ready to head back to school. Many people have spent the last few weeks preparing for multiple hurricanes and flooding – and now preparing to send relief supplies. Around here, folks are harvesting the bounty of the gardens and fields they have been tending since spring. Then will come the canning and laying up of that harvest provide for the future. Farmers and ranchers are hoping for one more cutting of hay to see them through the winter. Mother Nature is beginning to get into the act with deciduous trees readying to lose their leaves in a blaze of color. All manner of animals are beginning to find shelter and to store up food in those places for the lean of winter. Indeed, everything around us and including us is girding up for the season to come. The “Game of Thrones” tag line “Winter is Coming!” is indeed a true statement and sentiment. With that in mind, won’t you join me in prayer…
My reflection today is entitled, “Gird Yourselves”. Last week we explored what it meant to labor for our God, “I AM”. Part of what it takes to go to work is that we must be prepared. Whether this means that we need to get our tools together, or study for an examination, or prepare a sermon, we can’t just walk into our God work cold. This is what it means to “gird” ourselves – we are preparing for something. We pick up this theme in our Exodus text. The Hebrew’s are finally going to be released from bondage in Egypt. The final plague, the killing of the first-born, will happen on a given night. In order for the people to be prepared, they are to eat a specific meal, prepared in a specific manner, and leave nothing behind. They are to be fully dressed for travel with sandals and staff at the ready – they are told to eat the meal “hurriedly”. By placing the blood of the lamb that they are consuming on their doorposts and lintel, they will be “passed by” when the Angel of Death comes round. They were being prepared to leave in all haste to travel to Mount Horeb to worship and serve their savior God.
What we find in the rest of the story of Exodus (and really the rest of the Bible) is that the people really were not prepared to live together as a people, nor to serve God. We see this in how Paul educates the Roman congregation about how to live together as people of God in this in-between time. Paul fully expected that Jesus was coming back shortly, and thus he counseled his churches to “live honorably” and “love one another” and in this way fulfill all the commandments. He was trying to prepare them – gird them if you will – for the immanent return of their Savior. He says, “…the night is far gone, the day is near….” (verse 12a), and “…salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers….” (verse 11b) He is saying quite urgently to put away all those worldly things that do not matter so that you will not be found wanting when Jesus shows up again. Proper preparation prevents poor performance (as a coach of mine once said).
The author of Matthew takes a more measured approach to the topic of preparing to live together as children of God. Granted, this gospel was written a number of years after Paul’s letters – and maybe the writer wasn’t so sure that Jesus was coming back soon. Here in Matthew we see a three-step approach to handling sin between two believers. This is a very practical way to gird ourselves for the possibility that we won’t always see eye-to-eye, or that we might actually do something that harms another. By first speaking directly to the party who injured you, then with a group of two others and finally in front of the whole congregation, hopefully the sins of the perpetrator can be righted and all can come back into loving relationship. If the injuring party does not want to listen to that kind of counseling, then it is better to let them go somewhere else. It is better to be prepared to say good-bye to someone who is stirring the pot, than to let them continue to bring things to a boil (if I didn’t carry the metaphor too far).
To speak plainly, not everyone who comes to Church comes there to prepare themselves for the second coming of Jesus, or to do God’s will. The Church is, and has always been, God’s hospital full of broken people who are on the mend – both laity and clergy. Given this brokenness, it is common to find that people get sideways with one another and with the direction of the Church – with whether we are really following Jesus. It is easy for us to misunderstand the message of the Gospels, and of the Bible, and to just do our own thing. Paul is trying to prepare his folks for this eventuality, as is Jesus. God is calling us to do things that might be out of our comfort zones – we might even feel that what God is calling us to is not how we’re gifted. Yet, once again in our texts from Matthew and Exodus, we are reminded that when we conform our minds to God’s, then God is there with us – helping us do what we are called to do.
The Israelites were freed at a terrible price – the first born of all of Egypt were destroyed in that tenth and most horrific plague. We have been freed with an equally terrible price that was paid by Jesus through his execution on the cross. Last week’s scripture from Matthew had Jesus telling his disciples that they had to lose their lives for Him and pick up their cross. Jesus was trying desperately to get his followers to understand that his way of being in the world was not what the world desired. The world is Satan’s mouthpiece and Satan speaks to Jesus of having all the kingdoms of the world at his feet if Jesus would only worship him. (see the Mt 4:8-11) There was no need for all this suffering and death on a cross! Jesus knew better what his Father’s plans were for him – and he was prepared to follow His Lord wherever he was directed.
How about you? Are you prepared to state for the record that Jesus is not only your Savior – that your sins have been forgiven, but that He is your Lord? If you accept Him as Lord, are you prepared to follow Him wherever He sends you? Are you girded to follow him out of Egypt and into the wilderness on the promise that there is a better land out there? Are you willing to die to yourself in order that Jesus can take over your life and lead you to Him?
As a Boy Scout, I learned to “Always Be Prepared”. I learned about all the things that I needed to do to fulfill the Boy Scout “Oath” and “Pledge”. As a Christian I have learned many things as well, but I haven’t always seen it as preparing me for life with and for Jesus to rule. Specifically, how I was being prepared to pick up my cross. I had gone through a life time of Christian education and discipleship, and four years of Seminary training at a rigorous school, and I had not grappled with that fundamental question until the last six months. How about you? Are you fully prepared to look another person in the eye and tell them how it is that you have given your whole life to Jesus and just exactly what that means? If not, then we have some girding to do together. Because Jesus promises that when we gather together, He is with us. We know what to do, our Lord is with us, now is the time to put our preparation into action! Amen.