Sermon Proper 24a 10-18-2020
October 18, 2020, 12:00 PM

Proper 24a: 20th Sunday after Pentecost


There are things that can really scare us:  legal jeopardy from credit card debt, discovered infidelity, a near tragic car accident, health scares like lumps appearing where they should not be, any threat against our life. Fear can be so overwhelming that it produces what I call a spiritual emergency. When we are in a spiritual emergency, we either shut down or we open up.  Open to what?  To Grace and to being ourselves.  “What I do is me: for that I came”  to quote a poem of Gerard Manley Hopkins.   


Today's first reading deals with a spiritual emergency in the life of Moses.  The context of the reading from Exodus is that God has told Moses that after the incident of the golden calf, the Hebrews can continue their trek to the promised land, but that the Lord won't be going with them. This knocks the wind out of Moses and gives him a real panic attack.  Leading the Hebrews was never easy: the risky business of the red sea, the hunger in the wilderness, the thirst at Horeb, and finally the idolatry of the golden calf.  Moses felt he was hanging by a thread. And now to hear that God plans to abandon him is just too much.  Moses has a spiritual emergency like he has never experienced.  He prays and he begs God not to abandon him and not to abandon his people.  And once again God changes his mind.  The Lord says to Moses, “I will do the very thing you ask.”  From the depths of despair, from his extreme fear, Moses still can't turn his fear around.  In a spiritual emergency and deep darkness, he desperately begs God: “Show me your Glory.”  Now the Lord knows just how desperate and frightened Moses is, but this time it is not so easy.  There are some things even God cannot do.  Instead of answering Moses positively, he gives a yes and a no.  You see if God were to let Moses see his face, Moses would surely die.  The Lord has a work around if Moses will have it.  So God creates a space, a situation where he can give Moses less than he asks for but more than he could ever dream of.  God puts Moses in the cleft of a rock, covers him, and God passes over him so that while Moses does not see God's face he does get a glimpse of his glory!  In this life, we can never have more than a glimpse of glory.  A glimpse is heaven enough for now.  “Humankind cannot bear very much reality” as T.S. Eliot said, and a glimpse is all we need to manage our worse spiritual emergencies.  At that moment will we be open to the yes and no of the Lord, his grace.  Will we accept less than we ask for and more than we can ever dream of, that glimpse of Glory that God has in store for us?


It was April 3, 1968.  Martin Luther King made a trip to Memphis, Tennessee.  The trip was anxious for him because everyone sensed there was danger, serious danger and credible threats.  His flight was delayed and the pilot came  on the speaker to explain that they were delayed because King was on the plane and they had to check and double check the plane that had been under guard all night long. I suppose they were afraid of a bomb.  But it arrived safely in Memphis.  King went to Mason Temple and gave the speech that was the reason for his being in Memphis.  It was a long speech, over 40 minutes, about the conduct of nonviolent protest for sanitation workers but toward the end, Martin turned to the subject of fear.  He talked about the parable of the good Samaritan.  He said that it was fear that kept the priest and the Levite from helping.  Then King told a very personal story of his own fear.  He spoke of the time he was in New York at a book signing for his first book. A crazed woman stabbed him in the chest.  It was a terrible wound and he was rushed to the hospital.  The knife was so close to an aorta, the main artery, that another millimeter there would have been a rupture that would have caused him to drown in his own blood. It was a frightening near death experience.  While he was recovering in the hospital, he received many well wishes from the President, the Vice-President, Governors and many, many others.  But the only card he remembered was from a ninth grade girl, a young white woman who said she had heard about the terrible incident and that she had heard that if King had even sneezed he would have died.  She said, “I'm simply writing you to say that I'm so happy you did not sneeze.”  Martin then spoke of the many experiences he would have missed, including the great march on Washington if he had sneezed.  From his telling you know this was a spiritual emergency for King.  He could have shut down or opened up.  But he opened.  The next thing in his speech was this:

“Well, I don't know what will happen now.  We've got some difficult days ahead.  But it doesn't matter with me now.  Because I've been to the mountaintop.  And I don't mind.  Like anybody, I would like to live a long life.  Longevity has its place.  But I'm not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God's will.  And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I've looked over.  And I've seen the promised land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land.  And I'm happy, tonight.  I'm not worried about anything.  I'm not fearing any man.  Mine eyes have seen the coming of the Lord.” 

Clearly Martin experienced a spiritual emergency.  But he came to the other side of fear where he had that glimpse of the glory of the Lord that changes everything.  Gerard Manley Hopkins says in the poem I mentioned earlier: “the just man justices; keeps grace:  that keeps all his goings graces; Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is—Christ.”  That man was Martin Luther King, no longer afraid. And he was assassinated the next day.

I pray for each of us today, and for every member past and present of St. Andrews, that amazing grace will enable us to thrive from our spiritual emergencies. To be like Martin.  To be like Moses.  I pray that we will be opened and grace will lead us to be that for which we have come, a precious glimpse of the coming of the Lord.  Amen.

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