Sermon on 12 Pentecost, 8/22: Hidden in Plain Sight

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Joseph_Dwelleth_in_Egypt.Tissot

 

Ps. 124; Exodus 1:8 – 2:10; Romans 12:1 – 8; Matthew 16:13 – 20

He then gave his disciples strict orders not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.  Matt. 16:20

From 2008 to 2012, [U.S. television streamed] a drama/comedy that bore the title “In Plain Sight.”  The series, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, followed the efforts of fictitious US Deputy Marshall Mary Shannon, whose job it was to protect individuals who had entered what is commonly known as the Witness Protection Program.  Although I watched occasionally, as I found it to be a bit of comic relief, the real program is, so I understand, quite a serious undertaking.  Individuals are given new identities in addition to being relocated.  All ties to their previous lives are severed.  Miraculously, in the TV series and against all odds and often without cooperation of the very ones whom Deputy Shannon was to protect, lives were spared.

It was this TV program that came to mind as I read the lectionary appointed for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, or the period after Pentecost.  The acts of God are often “hidden in Plain Sight.”  You recall the story of the rescue of the baby Moses: In a time following the years-long successful leadership of the Hebrew Joseph, of multicolored coat fame, a new Pharaoh came to power who knew nothing of Joseph and how Joseph had saved the Egyptians from the famine that had decimated the Hebrews in their own land.  Not knowing the country’s history, what the new Pharaoh saw was an increase in the population of the Hebrews, those foreigners, those non-Egyptians, if you will, [who] in his mind threatened to upset the balance of power.

No border wall was to be erected to keep the undesirable aliens out [because] the Hebrews lived already among the Egyptian.  Rather, Pharaoh’s ‘final solution’ was that all male Hebrew babies should be put to death, a precursor to the edict of another insecure leader, Caesar Augustus, who lacked empathy and whose edict some centuries later caused Mary and Joseph to flee [with the infant Jesus from] Bethlehem in Judea to Egypt.  A novel form of Ethnic Cleansing was Pharaoh’s answer, and it was to take place by removing an essential component of the birthing equation, thus eliminating generations of Hebrews yet unborn.Moses_from_river.Dura_Europos_fresco_

When the baby Moses had become too large to be hidden, Miriam receives instruction from her mother Jochebed to wrap the baby in cloths, place him in a basket, and take the baby to the river where [he] remained until discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter.  She, in turn, asks Miriam, who just happens to be nearby, to find a Hebrew woman who would serve as wet-nurse.  Very shrewdly, Miriam returns the baby to his/their mother until he [could] be given to Pharaoh’s daughter, who then rears him as her son.  Salvation is “hidden in Plain Sight.”

The vignette from Matthew’s gospel addresses, from a different perspective, the question how best to secure the message of God for generations yet to come.  Because of [Jesus, a]lready known far and wide for his ability to heal and to teach, massive (even by our own 2020 standards) crowds assembled and followed Jesus in order to hear him and benefit from his curing powers.  However, not only do the meek and lowly know Jesus of Nazareth to be a man, mighty in word and in deed before God.  Jesus’ reputation had reached, as well, the salons of the rich, famous, and powerful.  Beheading was practiced as a sport against those who made them feel uncomfortable.

Always cognizant of his earthly mission, Jesus asks his immediate circle, his disciples, who the people believe him to be.  Yet, given the risks involved in his mission and to test their understanding of what stands before them, he asks them directly their understanding of who he is.  Peter responds emphatically: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” (Matt. 16:16)  One would anticipate a voice of jubilation with this affirmation, but Jesus responds with just the opposite demeanor.  “He then gave his disciples strict orders not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” (Matt. 16:20)  For the time being, it was important to remain hidden “in Plain Sight.”  The time would come when he would be lifted high for all the world to see.

It is often the case that the will of God is as clear as the brightness of the noonday.  However, [our] own human blinders prevent us from seeing what is being offered and what stands directly before us.  We want and expect a deus ex machina to rescue us from our foibles and our missteps.  We want and expect, with little effort on our part, a miracle.  As a person of the 21st century, I believe firmly in miracles, but “with a catch.”  For me, miracles, in addition to faith, require and come about because of human participation.  I offer the following humorous anecdote, sent me by an old friend from my Finger Lakes days, as illustrative of where we too often find ourselves.

“The governor of a certain state announced the approach of a hurricane—fierce winds and high rainfall—and warned all inhabitants in the path of the storm to evacuate to another location.  One man refused to follow orders, saying, he had nothing to fear for God would provide.  As the stormed advanced, officers from the Highway Patrol division came to the man’s house and advised him to evacuate.  Again, the man refused, saying he had nothing to fear, for God would provide.  The approaching hurricane, with its high winds andGalveston's_awful_calamity flooding, forced the man—no longer able to escape on land to a safer location—to climb to the roof of his house.  Rescuers in a motorboat, and on the lookout for stranded citizens, came across the man who sat on his rooftop.  They pleaded with the man to come to safety in their boat.  He refused a third time, saying he had nothing to fear, for God would provide.

Subsequently, the man died from drowning.  When the man arrived in heaven, he accused God of abandoning him in his moment of need.  To the man, God said: You fool!  I sent three messengers to save you.  Who told the governor to warn you of the hurricane?  Who was it who sent officers from the Highway Patrol?  And who was it who provided the fossil fuel for the motor boat that came to your rescue?  I sent you help in all forms.  You insisted on rejecting my help.  I was with you ‘in Plain Sight.’”

 

Dear People of God, I should like nothing more than to offer you a meditation in person, in our sanctuary with its beautiful stained glass windows, especially our east window that captures the sun of early morning, in which I could see your faces, unobstructed by face covering of various designs and colors, face covering combined with physical distance proven to retard the spread of COVID-19; a meditation, in which not occupying my thinking and concern for the loneliness and helplessness that have reached my ears due to this pandemic; a meditation, delivered directly, and not via ZOOM, to those in our immediate parish family who have time to participate in our liturgy and not be called out to care for those in distress; a meditation, in which even the thought of the word “pandemic” has receded into the recesses of our brain and our collective memory.  However, that is not our reality.  Still, we as a people are not without hope.  Ingenuity has prompted us to devise new ways of spreading the word of God and in keeping each other safe.

Hidden “in Plain Sight,” God devised a means of providing future support for Biblical Hebrews.  Hidden “in Plain Sight,” God’s Messiah strove onward and showed us, you and me, how we might enjoy on earth the fruits of our shared labor.  I suggest to you that the apostle Paul, born many centuries prior to the TV program “In Plain Sight,” understood clearly what it meant to be hidden “in Plain Sight” when he exhorted those under his tutelage, as well as us today, now recorded for our edification: “Conform no longer to the pattern of this present world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds.  Then you will be able to discern the will of God, and to know what is good, acceptable, and perfect…  Let us use the different gifts allotted to each of us by God’s grace… Love in all sincerity, loathing evil and holding fast to the good.”  (Romans 12:2ff.)  We, with the varied gifts bestowed upon us by God, are together participants in God’s miracles.

AMEN

 

Images:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_Jacques_Joseph_Tissot_-_Joseph_Dwelleth_in_Egypt_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dura_Europos_fresco_Moses_from_river.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Galveston%27s_awful_calamity_-_Gulf_tidal_wave,_September_8th_1900_LCCN2014645198.jpg