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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Exodus Grace

[Homily notes for 13 Sunday after Pentecost]

Last week we read in Exodus that God had seen the abuse of the Hebrew slaves, He had heard their cries, He knew their suffering, He remembered His covenant promise and He came down to save them. Moses, standing before the burning bush, was identified as the (instrumental) savior. This, I said, was the Good News. “God Saves His People!”
Today the Exodus account describes the next stage of the salvation process. After much negotiation and many plagues, God is ready to administer the penultimate act in His battle with Egypt and its gods (the final act is the parting of the sea and subsequent annihilation of the Egyptian army) which will set His people free. The fullness of Good News, "God comes to save His people," is in the Incarnation of God the Son in Jesus Christ. His death on the cross is the perfect sacrifice and His resurrection begins the new age (the end of “Night” and Dawn approaches).
The death of Jesus is the fullness and fulfillment of the Paschal Sacrifice. Eucharist is the new Passover meal. [In fact, today’s reading, Exodus 12:1-14 is also the first reading on Maundy Thursday.] We are invited to read Exodus typologically: to see Jesus and God’s saving work in Him.

I make this point because Romans is so often the center of discussion about salvation by faith. “Works righteousness” is rejected, and sometimes erroneously projected on the Jewish People in general, and the “Old Testament” in particular. Yet how can the Word of God be in error about something so central as salvation? In fact, it is not.
In Exodus, the salvation event(s) take place before the Law is received. Paul makes a point of this with the Abraham illustration in Romans 4. However, the truth is not limited to that one instance. In all salvation history it is God who graciously sees, hears and acts in accordance with His hesed (covenant love, steadfast mercy, strong act of compassion) toward His people. Such long enduring, patience was never earned. From the beginning, He is the initiator/creator (creation is a grace) and rescuer/redeemer (since the Garden, with Cain, etc.) and we can only receive. There is nothing we can do, or think, or feel which puts God in our debt. Nothing.

What of saved by faith? The word has two dimensions and can mean trust or fidelity; faith or faithfulness.

Another look at Exodus will provide a helpful framework for seeing both. God warns of the approaching angel of death. He gratuitously offers a way out, put the blood of the lamb (another Christ image) on the door post. Those who trust the Word, believe in their heart it is true, act accordingly, right? So faith begets faithfulness. The act of painting the door with the Lamb’s blood does not earn salvation does it? But the failure to act is to “believe without believing”--it is to say, “I believe it is true but I am not acting on my belief.” It is not faith which saves.

What God has done, in Jesus, is offer His first born son for the sins of the world. This means that you, and anyone who is dear to you, has access to the Kingdom by God’s saving grace and redeeming love poured out in the Blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God. BUT...! But our faith in Jesus is not a mere notional assent. It has repercussions in our life. This is the foundation of Paul’s ethical exhortations in Romans 12-15. We belong to God. As 1 John says, “God is Love.” As Jesus says, “Love God with everything and your neighbor as yourself.” We must love one another because love is the life force released by our God’s Spirit within us. There can be no loveless saving faith. So Paul spells out all manner of do’s and don’ts because he provides examples to us of what love looks like concretely. Love is the imitation of Christ. Love is the fullness of life in Christ. Love is the fruit of faith and faithfulness. 

But, as Jesus makes clear: Love frees the other from sin! Love is not "too nice to 'bother' the other." It does not tolerate the decadence of the flesh. And, as Jesus says, in today’s Gospel, love is actively seeking reconciliation. It is confronting the one who harms us in the pursuit of communion. Next week, we will hear, that this is done with a spirit of forgiveness. However, Jesus is not na├»ve. Sometimes it doesn’t work and we need the help of others, perhaps even the whole community. Without repentance there can be no community. There can be no reconciliation.
True love confronts. True love forgives.

True love also gets crucified--shed blood of a lamb--awaiting God’s act of redemption. Living the Exodus life is a struggle. A living faith centered on repentance, reconciliation and love is exhausting! Yet it is the desert land which we must cross on our way to the joys of the promised land.

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