A sermon preached online at St Mary’s Iffley
by Andrew McKearney on 14 June 2020
Our first reading is intriguing. The people of God have been delivered from slavery in Egypt. They’ve crossed the Red Sea, journeyed through the wilderness and camped in front of the mountain. They’ve not yet been given the 10 commandments or any of the other laws, and yet they say to Moses: ‘Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.’ Goodness!
There’s a lovely Jewish story that has come from people reflecting on this intriguing passage. The story goes like this.
When God was looking for a nation to adopt, he approached a number of different peoples, all of whom first wanted to know the terms and conditions. When they heard what the laws were that they would have to obey they thought better of it and declined God’s invitation to be his people. The Israelites on the other hand agreed before asking any questions, and so ended up not only with the 10 commandments but with all the other laws thrown in for good measure.
Read the small print before you sign! Well that’s one possible moral to take from this morning’s story.
But perhaps a better moral, and a moral that’s probably closer to the one that the writer themselves wanted us to take away, is this.
The people of God have been rescued from slavery in Egypt and have successfully escaped capture and death at the hands of the Egyptians. They’ve come through the wilderness as if carried on eagles’ wings and they’ve learnt to trust God’s voice speaking to them.
So why would they need to read the small print? They already know what it’s like to be God’s treasured possession. So of course when God proposes to them, what do they say but ‘Yes.’
First came their experience of God; God rescuing them, God carrying them on eagles’ wings, God bringing them to himself. Then, having had that experience, they could trust; they could give their willingness to God; they could say ‘Yes’.
Don’t get me wrong, we can, and sometimes should, insist on reading the small print. But what do most of us do? We trust the person who’s putting the pen in front of us, and sign at the bottom of the page.
And when it comes to life itself, who is that person putting the pen in front of us but God?
There’s a lovely little poem by the American poet Mary Oliver. It’s a very simple poem as most of her poems are. It’s the first poem in her book of selected poems published just before she died, and it’s called ‘I wake close to the morning’.
Why do people keep asking to see
God’s identity papers
when the darkness opening into morning
is more than enough?
Certainly any god might turn away in disgust.
Think of Sheba approaching
the kingdom of Solomon.
Do you think she had to ask,
“Is this the place?”
Our gospel reading follows a similar pattern.
The disciples have been with Jesus now for a while. They’ve shared meals, slept out under the stars, asked questions about his teaching and prayed together. They’ve experienced his compassion not just for themselves but they’ve seen it at work in others too, curing diseases and healing wounded hearts.
Now Jesus gathers his disciples together, gives them authority and sends them out to do the same kinds of things. What they’ve experienced for themselves and seen Jesus do for others, now they’re empowered to do.
You see – receiving and giving between you and me are always entwined with each other and there are trade offs and benefits in kind. But when it comes to God it’s not like that. The flow is only ever one way. It’s all gift.
Do you remember the last thing we heard Jesus say to us this morning? ‘You received without payment; give without payment.’
There’s a chorus that you might want to sing along to that I want to end with. We’ll sing it through three times. It’s not quite Mozart – we’ll be hearing that later. But if you want to join in with this one just remember to mute your microphone!
He said: ‘Freely, freely you have received;
freely, freely, give.
Go in my name, and because you believe,
others will know that I live.’