A sermon preached at St. George’s Anglican Church Calgary, by the Rev. Clara King, March 4 2018.
3rd Sunday in Lent – Year B
May the words of my mouth and the medications of all our hearts, be always acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Today, I want to tell you a story about my horse, Brodie. Brodie is not a fancy horse, he’s more like a rescue horse, who I got for cheap and I keep him for cheap too. And like a lot of rescue animals, he has a lot of trauma in his past.
This trauma taught Brodie not to trust people. He was trained by people with a bad attitude towards horses: if the horse does something you don’t like, beat the horse and try again. In horses like Brodie, who have a lot of character and spirit, this only leads to more and more bad behaviours. Eventually he was the kind of horse people were warned to keep away from. He was angry and dangerous. He more or less thought people were a bad idea, especially if they wanted to do anything with him, like work him or ride him.
I knew all of these details about Brodie when I got him. And I knew that he may not ever be a rideable horse. I reckoned if we could just develop a healthy relationship, that would be enough. And so we did. We worked on lots of things over the course of several years, and before long, Brodie was no longer angry and dangerous. Before long, Brodie was willing, respectful and a delight to be around. I took a risk one day and asked if he’d let me get on him. And before long, I was riding him with no saddle and no bridle, all over the fields. It was time to try the saddle and the bridle.
But all I had to do was pull the bridle out of the locker and hang it on a hook where he could see it, and he would begin to shut down. If I pulled out the saddle and placed it on a barrel in the arena, his patience and affection and playfulness completely disappeared: his face went blank, his mouth hardened, he stood rigid as if waiting for the torturers to come and get him for his next session on the rack.
But I kept doing it, I kept bringing out the saddle and bridle for him to see, I kept asking him to relax in their presence and not worry about them so much, because
I could see a bigger picture than Brodie could see. I could see the possibility of a wonderful life together, if we could build a solid working bond. I could see the possibility that he would become an amazing trail-riding horse, and that he’d love it. And I could see another possibility too: the possibility that one day something might happen to me, and that if that were to happen, he’d be safer and better taken care of if he was a well trained horse.
So I kept working on the saddle and the bridle out of love and care for Brodie, even if, to him, it didn’t look like love and care.
It’s this same tension that is at play in our reading from Exodus today.
The way we read this passage, during Lent, and cutting it off from it’s place in the broader story, helps us to hear it really only as a set of rules to be followed, as a series of things we must and must not do.
And for many of us, it may also bring to mind all the ways that we’ve been bad and sinned and transgressed – reading it this way is likely to make us feel worse about ourselves, and quite possibly worse about God, who seems very remote in this passage, and very demanding.
But we would be missing out on something terribly important if we forget the larger context in which this story is set. This story really begins in Egypt, where the Israelites were slaves for generations, for hundreds of years: slavery was everything they had known. And God hears the cries of the people, and delivers them from slavery.
But just because they’re now free does not mean that they know how to be a free people. Just because they’ve been rescued by God doesn’t mean they know how to be people of faith. And so God sends them on a very, very long pilgrimage, out into the wilderness, to learn the core skills of how to be a people together.
And out in the wilderness they were exhausted and frightened to be so far from everything that they had known. They complained about the lack of food, they whined about the lack of comforts, they got anxious about the lack of routine and structure and leadership, all the things they’d become accustomed to when they were slaves.
Quite frankly, they are not so sure if “being rescued” by this God of theirs was a good thing for them or not.
But of course there’s a bigger story here, a broader context, which is the story of God’s loving faithfulness for His chosen people, for His beloved children. Whatever the Israelites might think while they’re wandering in the desert, love is why God led them out of Egypt; and whatever the Israelites might suspect, love is why God leads them into the wilderness. And love is why God gives the Commandments: as part of God’s lessons to them about how to live together as a free and faithful people.
Love is also why God is inviting us on our journey of healing. Just like the Israelites, just like Brodie, there are traumas in our past that God is inviting us to grow beyond. God is offering us lessons about how we can live together as a community; as a free and faithful people. That is the work we are doing in our Healing Past Hurts work.
Just like Brodie, there are going to be parts of it we’re not going to like. Just like the Israelites, there are going to be days we wish we could go back, to a past that maybe wasn’t all that great, but at least it was familiar! And yet, in love, God calls us onward; in love, God calls us to persevere.
God calls us to this work, not for the work itself, but because God has a vision, a bigger context, and if we could see it, we’d love it too. Because God dreams of each of us being liberated; and God dreams of St. George’s playing its part in the redemption of the world.
Eventually, Brodie learned to relax, and now he thinks the saddle and the bridle mean we’re going on an adventure together. Eventually, the Israelites learned to relax and trust what God was doing, to them and for them, in their midst.
God calls upon us to trust him, and believe what he’s doing, now, in our midst too.
This Lent, may we take a deep breath, and trust God, and allow God to take us on this journey. A journey of healing and repentance and growth; lessons in love taught by our God who is love, and who longs for us to learn a healthy love for one another, and learn to live healthily together, as a free and faithful people.
May we have the grace to relax into God’s loving embrace, and learn the lessons God wishes to teach us. Amen.