Sunday Sermon: August 21, 2011

“Think Different.”
Exodus 1:8-2:10 and Romans 12:1-8
August 21, 2011
First Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN
Earlier this week, the political world was abuzz about an op-ed by investor Warren Buffet.  In the opinion piece in the New York Times, Buffet calls on Congress to “stop coddling the super-rich” and raise taxes significantly on persons like himself who happen to be super rich.
As someone who follows politics, I can tell the reaction was rather predictable.  Many on the political left cheered it, while conservatives thought that if Buffet thought he should give the government more money, then he should do so without asking for Congress to raise taxes.
I’m not here this morning to talk about Warren Buffet’s challenge or to argue the finer point of American taxation.  What I am interested in is something that Buffet talks about  at the start of his opinion piece: a call for shared sacrifice.  It’s a phrase that we hear a lot from politicians.  For Buffet the answer to is one of the upper incomes paying more in taxes.  That’s a political and economic answer to our ongoing problems with the economy and the deficit.  But what does it mean for us?  What does it mean for those of us who follow Jesus?  What does shared sacrifice look like?

This Sunday we are faced with two texts that are similar and different from each other at the same time.  Our text in Exodus reads like the beginning of a big summer blockbuster.  We see a Pharoah who doesn’t remember Joseph and resents the Israelites.  So he makes them into slaves and orders the midwives to kill all the baby boys.  This king is straight out of central casting.  He’s a rutheless leader that will defensless children in order to keep  power.  But even as the villain goes about his killing spree, there are the women who in contrast to Pharoah seem almost small and insignificant.  Two midwives, Puah and Shiprah, decide to disregard the king’s order.  When asked why they were ignoring the king’s commands, they shrewdly come up with a story about how the Hebrew women are so strong that they give birth before the midwives even arrive.  And then there were the women around baby Moses.  His mother hid him for months and as luck would have it, the daughter of the Pharoah finds Moses in a basket drifting down the river.  She decides to take care the child and Moses’ big sister arranges to have his mother nurse the little Hebrew in the palace of the king.
If this story in Exodus is like a blockbuster movie, then Paul’s letter to the Romans is like an indie film with odd and quirky characters.  Paul urges the Christians in Rome to not conform to the ways of the world but to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God, to allow God to transform them into followers of Jesus. 
Since I’ve been in ministry with you these last few years, there has been one unspoken and sometimes spoken though that has buzzed around our community: what does it mean to be church?  Now, it seems a little funny for a church that’s almost 135 years old to be asking that question.  But it is a question we have to revisit every so often if we want to remain church. 
The Apostle Paul is writing to a faith community that is truly in the center of everything.  Rome is the capital city of the Empire that bears it name.  If there is a place in the old Roman Empire that would want people to be true patriots, then it had to be Rome.  And yet, Paul was calling the Roman Christians to act differently in the world.  They were called as a community to live lives for others, to allow for people to exercise their God-given gifts, to be a visible presence in the world that was different from others.
The opening story in Exodus is really an example of what it means to live a sacrificial life.  Puah and Shiprah were in many ways placing their own lives on the line for the sake of others.  It was because they were willing sacrifice themselves that Moses was allowed to live and lead his people out of Egypt.  It was the daughter of Pharoah who was willing to raise a Hebrew child in open defiance of her father.  That’s sacrificial living.
Of course, the most obvious example is Jesus, who lived a life healing others and then gave his own life as a sacrifice for us all.  History is filled with followers of Jesus who lived sacrificial lives to the point of giving up their lives.  Dietrich Bonehoeffer and Martin Luther King are two names that immediately come to mind.
Now in the every day world, most of our not going to save babies from a homicidal king or fight Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan.  Living a life as a daily sacrifice means allowing God to shape our lives.  It means that we live a life both individually and corporately differently from how the rest of the world lives.
I want to leave you with an example.  It was about 10 years ago, I was interning at another Disciples of Christ congregation here in Minneapolis.  I was asked to serve on a committee and everyone present at a meeting of the congregation voted in favor…save one person.
This one person had a reason for voting against me; because of me being gay.  I know this because he told me.  After the meeting ended, he pulled me aside to explain why he voted the way he did.  He did a lot of thinking and praying at least at that time could not come to any other conclusion than the one he came up with.  He said all of this with a lot of emotion.  I could tell he respected me even though he disagreed with me on this issue and it hurt him that he had reached a different conclusion than I did.
I share this story because I think it is an example of being a living sacrifice.  I didn’t like the conclusion that the man came up with, but he was willing to stay in community, willing to get out of his comfort zone and treated me as a fellow brother in Christ.   In a time when we have become so partisan, there was something wonderful of the way this man treated me even though we disagree.
Back in the early 90s, the computer company Apple had an innovative ad campaign where they would show pictures of various celebrities with the caption, “Think Different.”  It didn’t show a computer just their logo and the caption.  I don’t know if sold many laptops, but it was memorable.  Apple wanted to state they were different from other technology companies.
The church is called to be different to be a living witness of what God wants in the world.  It’s a place where we live for others and learn to deal with each other fairly and truthfully. 
So, let us as First Christian be the church in the world.  Let us live as living sacrifices to God.  Let us be the church together.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Click here to listen to the sermon podcast.
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