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Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (May 3, 2020)

    May 03, 2020

    Passage: Exodus 28:1-38

    Preacher: Rob Donehue

    Category: Easter


    Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A - 2020)
    May 3rd, 2020
    St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Online)
    Morning Prayer

    Exodus 28: 1-4, 30-38     1 John 2: 18-29      Mark 6: 30-44

    If you were not riveted by the OT reading this morning, I can hardly blame you. It’s not what might immediately jump to mind if you’re looking through scripture for inspirational verses. If you remember from last week, then you might recall me saying that I figured the Old Testament lesson might be a bit dry. Turns out I was only off by a week. But in spite of today being Good Shepherd Sunday, with all the sermon fodder that that theme has, I was for some reason drawn to the lesson from Exodus.  

    So, in dealing with the lesson from Exodus, there are a few questions that you might already be thinking: what can we learn from a detailed description of the priestly vestments that were supposed to be used by the ancient Hebrews? What do turbans and sashes and blue robes with pomegranates and bells have to do with our life today? Why should that matter to us? 

    And the initial answer is that ancient priestly garb probably doesn’t mean much to us. But I’d like you to do a bit of historical imagining with me. Imagine that you are one of those ancient Israelites who had just escaped from slavery in Egypt. Imagine that you are now somewhere in the wilderness with no place yet to call home. Imagine that you, along with everyone else in your community, are relatively poor. But since you’ve come out of Egypt, you probably can remember the garb of the Egyptian priests and how richly adorned they were. You can probably remember seeing some of their religious festivals, and how those festivals struck you as quite impressive. The Egyptians’ celebrations may even have made you think that the Egyptian gods must be powerful if people go to such lengths in their worship of them. 

    But now, here you are in the wilderness with your fellow former slaves, and the only reason you’re there in the first place is because your God delivered you and showed that God - Yahweh - is the only true God. And you want to worship God with all of the pomp and splendor that you can muster. I think that if we look at the story in this light, it begins to make a little bit more sense. And all of those details begin to take on more of the shape of a very human story.

    If you recall from the scripture, we are told that God commands Moses, “You shall speak to all who have ability, whom I have endowed with skill, that they make Aaron’s vestments to consecrate him for my priesthood.” This one line, I think, is telling us something important. Because before we get into the descriptions of the vestments, we are told that God wants the people to be the ones who make them. It’s not just that the garments themselves are to be made in such and such a way. It’s that the people themselves are to take part in making the vestments that will set Aaron apart for the priesthood. 

    That might not sound like a big deal, but again, imagine that you are an ancient Hebrew taking part in worship and you see Aaron pass by, decked out in all his garb. And you think to yourself, “My grandmother Miriam dyed that checkered tunic. My uncle Isaac crafted half of the bells. My cousin Reuben wove the cloth for the turban. My neighbor Jephthah donated a spool of crimson thread. That gold plate on Aaron’s head was made by my best friend Eli. I did some of the embroidery.” And as Aaron makes his way to approach the presence of God, it occurs to you that he’s not going into God’s presence alone. Rather, he’s taking the whole congregation with him because he’s wearing - not just garments - but the skill and craft of God’s people. 

    Again, if we can see past scripture's mundane details, we might just begin to see that this story is a very human story. And if we learn anything from scripture, it’s that God seems to be intimately interested in the human story.

    I don’t know if any of y’all ever do this, but have you ever been in a worship service at St. Anne’s and wondered where all of the stuff came from - and whether there’s a story behind any of it? I’ll admit I don’t know ALL of the details, but I’m regularly thankful that I know that certain items were given by certain people. I won’t embarrass anyone by calling them out, but every time we use our processional cross, I’m reminded that that cross represents someone’s love for God and their desire to make our worship special. Every time I put on vestments, I am reminded that I’m literally wearing someone’s generosity. Every time the Gospel is read from our Gospel book, I’m reminded that that book symbolizes someone’s devotion to those beautiful words. Back at Easter, I mentioned the statue of St. Anne and how much that first simple gift meant for our community. And the list goes on. 

    Of course, if I were to read off to you just a description of the stuff we have, I do not doubt that it would seem kind of tedious. After all, it IS just stuff. But when you stop to think that most of that stuff has a human story behind it - has a story of dedication, or skill, or prayerful concern for the community, then even the tedious details begin to take on a whole new meaning. Yes, even the details can help us deepen our appreciation for what it means to belong to a community striving to worship God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. 

    And I think that this deepening of appreciation can be true not just for the things we use in our collective worship, but also for the things that we have in our own lives.  

    So here’s a challenge for you for the coming week. If you’re like me, the ongoing quarantine and practice of social distancing has given me the opportunity to do some checking of inventory. And perhaps you’ve already decluttered everything in your house that you possibly can. But I’d invite you to find some items that have special significance for you. A souvenir from a past trip. A gift from a loved one. It doesn’t have to be anything ornate - even the silliest of knickknacks can have meaning for us personally. Take an inventory of some your own stuff and try to describe it in detail - write it out if that helps. See what you are grateful for and why you are grateful for it. You may discover a renewed sense of connection to someone that you’re currently separated from. And you may be reminded that even in this current chapter of our lives, our story is still a very human story.



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