They Would Not Listen
- Thursday, March 24 2011
Sermon on Exodus 6:1-9
Preached at Drew Theological Seminary, March 22, 2011
Pastor Heidi Neumark
God has heard your groaning. God will free you from your burdens. God will lead you to a new place… a place of freedom, safety and goodness. Moses told this to the Israelites; but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.
They would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit.
Who here does not know someone who has left the church because of their broken spirit? Maybe there’s someone who has lost faith, someone who cannot comprehend why you, you of all people, are here in this space today. And what is even more tragic is that, in many cases, the church itself that has been the spirit-breaker.
We were sitting at a table in the church basement eating lasagna. “So,” Alleyne asked me, “when are you going to give me the lecture?” What lecture? “The one that every minister gives me.” Which one is that? “The one where you tell me I’m going to hell.” Alleyne is a transgender young woman who’d known nothing but demonization from the church.
A young man told me his coming out story. He was thirteen when he told his family at the dinner table that he was gay. His mother got up and began stabbing him with her fork, as she shouted. “This is a Christian home!” The sharp tines left a row of scar bumps on his arm and another on his side.
A God who hears your groaning? A God who will free you from your burdens? but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit. You likely have your own examples. You may even have had your own spirit broken at some point.
Moses spoke a powerful word of liberation and grace, but the people were beyond listening to words. It’s a sobering story especially because most of us here spend a lot of time pouring over words, reading, writing, re-writing and speaking words. Words that we hope will matter in the face of cruel oppression and broken spirits. Especially then.
Yet when we keep reading the Exodus account, we see that the same people who were beyond listening to Moses’ words, did eventually follow his feet in the direction of freedom. They followed his feet to the edge of the sea. They followed his feet through the waves to the shore. They followed as Miriam took a tambourine in her hand and led a singing dance there on the dry ground. Maybe that’s why Isaiah said, how beautiful on the mountain are the feet of those who bring good news. Sometimes our feet can move others to a new place when our words cannot.
When I was in seminary taking my first preaching class, our professor introduced a newfangled device to the homiletics classroom. A video camera. Yes, it was a long time ago, back when I knew a lot more than I do today. None of us were happy about the camera. Preparing a sermon was work enough but now we were told that posture, facial expression and eye contact had to be worked on too. As Professor Albert put it “the wrong body language can kill a good sermon.” Watching ourselves on camera, we saw, to our embarrassment, that it was true. The wrong body language can kill a good sermon. And it is true too when it comes to the posture and body language of the church, the body of Christ. Yes, but I like to think that the opposite is also be true. The right body language can redeem us.
Sometimes our feet can move others to a new place when our words cannot.
The feet of those who travel to volunteer in our shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth. The hands of those who come to prepare homemade meals, the hands of the Queer knitter’s circle of Maine who spent months knitting beautiful homemade woolen scarves, hats and gloves, packed them up and mailed them in time for the cold. The faces that radiate respect and warmth instead of rejection and hate.
St. Teresa of Avila put it well:
“Christ has no body but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours.”
In the Exodus story, Moses quotes God saying
“I have heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves.” I have heard the groaning.
In Jesus, our groaning becomes embodied in God, the Word become flesh.
The body language of redemption.
Jesus took his body across the border and walked into Samaritan territory. If he had stayed in the confines of the temple courts and cult, if he had sat in his office or stood in his pulpit and waited for the woman to come to him, their liberating conversation by the well would never have taken place.
He put his fingers into a deaf man’s ears, spit and touched his tongue.
He filled his lap with children eager for the touch of blessing.
He stretched out his hand and placed it on a leper’s sickly skin.
He welcomed the warm flow and soft caress of a woman’s tears and hair
on his naked feet. And the hands of a bumbling tone-deaf disciple that washed them too…The body language of liberating love.
though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
“I have heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves.”
In Jesus, our groaning becomes embodied in God.
In the desert, hungry and thirsty and struggling to do the right thing in the face of temptation.
In the garden, with groans too deep for words.
Outside the city gate
Broken and groaning In a loud voice,
In the throws of death.
The whole creation groaning in labor pains and not only the creation but we ourselves….
..Jesus himself stood up among them, Peace be with you. he said
You will be my witnesses. …… You will be his witnesses.
But, will anybody listen?
The holidays are especially hard in our shelter, as they are for many people who carry cruel burdens and ache with broken spirits. Thanksgiving and Christmas also tend to bring an outpouring of gifts, but perhaps the most liberating thing for the young people at our shelter was the opportunity to be on the giving end for a change.
William was one of the youth who volunteered to help ready and serve rather than being served breakfast on Christmas, cooking eggs, grits and sausages for homeless adults from around the neighborhood. Ever since then, he’s been coming to worship. On Sunday, William asked if he could join the church. Of course he can. But in a more important way, he already has.
Christ has no body but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
It’s not easy. Even Jesus needed a break from time to time. But none of you are here for easy. And we do not walk alone.
Moses is gone but Jesus is still among us. I caught a glimpse of him on Sunday in William’s face. He was in a new place. A safe place, a free place, a good place. He was singing. Amen.