Sermon from October 6: Brave
World Communion Sunday; October 6, 2019
I was telling my friend about our congregational conversation last week around the question of becoming a More Light Church. I told him that the chief desire of those advocating for it is so that people would know that we’re a safe place, that LGBTQIA persons could come here and know they would feel safe. Later in the conversation, my friend said, “I have a question. You said your church wants to be a safe place. Would it be safe for me to come wearing a MAGA cap?”
That’s a good question. Would it be? Some months ago we met a transgender woman who is part of a nearby church which is hostile to transgendered people; she stays because it is her church and her presence forces them to have to deal with her. Is it safe to wear a MAGA cap here or does one have to be brave?
It not only takes courage to go to a place where you don’t feel safe, but it also takes courage to create an environment where people feel safe. It’s easy to welcome those you agree with, those you can feel sympathy toward; you have to be brave to welcome those who differ from you or whose opinions upset you.
The two Scriptures for today come together at that place: the place of bravery. First, Luke (8:16-21) sets the stage for us in two places. Jesus says that when you have light, let it shine. It’s easy to shine light in a place where it’s welcome, but to shine where people don’t want to see it is brave. And then Jesus says that blood family is irrelevant; the people he really considers family are those “who hear the word of God and do it.”
Hold that thought: the Gospel piece is to shine with the light of the word of God by doing it. Then from Exodus is the story of two very brave women, Shiphrah and Puah. When the Pharaoh demanded an explanation for their failure to kill the Hebrew children, they lied. They stood there, heads bowed before the divine monarch, the son of heaven, the ruler of that world’s most powerful nation and the one who held in his voice the power of life and death, and they lied to him. They lied in order to save the children of the people of God. They lied because they feared God.
Yes, they feared God. Those who fear God are able to be brave in the face of anyone who is less than God, even the Pharaoh of Egypt. They were quick and they were clever and they were brave. They heard the word of God and they did it, so Jesus would consider them family. They did not hide their light under a bushel, but let it shine in the darkness of the royal court. Oh, I suppose they could have told the Pharaoh the truth, and they would have been executed and he would have found midwives who would have done his will. No, better that they lied to him and could continue saving the Hebrew children, until he found another means to oppress them. But that’s next week’s story.
There are few people in the Bible I admire more than Shiphrah and Puah. Once when I was preaching about them, I praised them so strongly that a pregnant member of the church said to me afterward, “If I name this child Shiphrah Puah, it’s your fault!” She didn’t; she named her Kelsey, but I enjoyed her admiration for these midwives.
People of God, this is what I hope for us as a community of faith: that we will be brave. I hope we can be brave enough to move outside our comfort zones. I heard an athlete say, “Outside my comfort zone: that’s where the blessing is.” I ask myself what I push myself to do that is outside my comfort zone; if you ask yourself that question, then know that I’m with you. If we’re going to be a church that is Jesus’ family, we have to be willing to hear the word of God and do it, even if we’re afraid, even if it’s outside our comfort zone. I want that for us.
I hope we will be brave enough to be a safe place for anyone who feels unwelcome, even those we would rather not have to deal with.
I hope we will be brave enough to listen to one another and to listen to those not part of us. Last week in our congregational conversation you all spoke clearly and listened to one another respectfully. Now, it’s fun to stand in the parking lot and yell at someone, then walk away, but that’s not what mature people do, not what Christian people do: we speak and we listen.
And I hope that we will be brave enough to live by our principles, to hear the Word of God and do it. I hope that we will make decisions not because we’re afraid of who might get mad or who might leave; people have left the Church and do leave and will leave out of objection to something, but fear of what someone may do should not guide us. Rather, I hope we will be brave enough to hear the Word of God and do it.
So I pray that we will be brave, brave enough to create a comfort zone for those who need to feel safe, and brave enough to go outside our own comfort zones, to where we do not feel safe. Shiphrah and Puah will be our guides.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master