Communicating Along the Journey
19th Sunday after Pentecost
October 19, 2014
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Charleston
I Thessalonians 1:1-10
It was that fascinating encounter in the Exodus reading this morning that first encouraged me to think of the variety of human interactions, represented in our readings today. I want to suggest to you that our readings together offer messages about our communications as human beings … messages that can be helpful and valuable in our everyday lives.
At this point in the story of the Exodus journey, people had gotten tired. After all, they were years into their trip, and the Promised Land was still far off. Also during this time – for better or worse – the people had gotten to know each other very well – perhaps too well, on such a long trip. And, in addition, Moses who served as the people’s representative, had developed what could be called a certain familiarity with none other than God Almighty. After all, Moses and God had met together on many occasions along the way. It was within those circumstances, then, that today’s encounter took place.
Moses approaches God with a certain boldness – boldness born out of familiarity. He says to God, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me” (Ex 33:12). Then Moses continues, “Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you” (33:13). God responds positively to these requests, as He says, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight” (33:17). He even agrees to allow Moses to witness a degree of the divine glory.
Now, I would characterize this encounter as an exercise in bargaining and, even, in the testing of limits. Thus, Moses begins by pointing out his own faithfulness, and on that basis, he makes a request that God indicate something to Moses about his very being, as God. And, God agrees. Then, Moses says, in effect, “Well, if that’s OK, then how about letting me see your personal glory.” Again, God agrees … but with this limit: “You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live” (33:20). Therefore, this encounter does seem to be a kind of exercise in bargaining and in testing and setting limits.
The next lesson – from First Thessalonians – presents a different kind of encounter … and a different character of communication. There, the writers of this letter – Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy – express their encouragement to the people of Thessalonika. The authors first express their thanks for the faith indicated by members of that community. They proceed to mention ways that the Thessalonians have put their faith into action – not only in their local community but also in other areas of the known world.
Therefore, this reading does present a very different kind of encounter and communication – one that involves support and gratitude and encouragement.
Then, the final lesson – from St. Matthew’s Gospel – offers still a different variety of interchange. Even though it is different, however, certain aspects of this encounter are quite typical, in human interactions. Remember that a group approaches Jesus with questions that actually had other purposes than getting answers. In fact, the reading indicates that the purpose was “to entrap Jesus” (22:15).
Before responding, though, Jesus becomes “aware of their malice” (22:18), as our lesson indicates. He does not play the game as his inquisitors had hoped. Rather, he responds in such a way that the trap is disarmed. And, as we read, “They were amazed; and they left him and went away” (22:22).
Therefore, today’s lessons offer us examples of three very different kinds of encounters. If we may leave the field of theology for a moment, I want to suggest that these encounters represent typical interactions for different times in our lives. And, we might add, it is interesting that all of these times in life are represented by participants in today’s liturgy here at St. Stephen’s Church.
The Letter to the Thessalonians offers the support and encouragement which a parent, at his or her best, provides to a child. A nurturing mother and father communicate with a child in such a way that encourages health and fulfillment.
On the other hand, the bargaining and setting of limits found in Exodus sounds more like a teenager to me. It is appropriate and expected to test limits at such a time in life, and the teenager actually needs to discover how far he or she can go.
Then, as the Pharisees try to trick Jesus with their questions, I think of adult communications in their less-than-ideal manifestations. The Pharisees begin with insincere words of praise and admiration. Jesus has to see through their words to a deeper meaning – and, also, to avoid their trap at the same time.
So, I suggest today that there exists a chronological correlation in today’s readings – a correlation that applies to various points on life’s journey. Now, in addition to pointing out these interesting interactions in our readings – and in addition to associating these interactions to particular points in life – I do have one final reason for taking us down this path in today’s sermon.
That is, I want to suggest that the best model for our communications is the one represented by First Thessalonians. The adults among us might prefer sometimes to act like teenagers and test our limits. And, we might at times enjoy the game of entrapping one another with insincere praise. However, the most effective communication – and the most productive one – actually is that of a loving parent with a child. In such a situation, we encourage and support each other, and we recognize that we are in this enterprise of life together. May we therefore strive – in our communicating with our fellow travelers – to support, to thank, and to encourage each other, whenever possible. As we do so, we will develop patterns of healthy behavior among us all. And, the journey of life itself will be more enjoyable as well! Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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