Many of you know that my mom died last fall, a day before her 85th birthday. She still lived in the same house in which my brother and I were raised, and with my brother being four years older than me that’s well over 50 years.
Of course, not all the old neighbours still lived on the street, but some still did. Mr Jäkel down the street. Markus, a year older than me, had bought his mom’s house who had bought a condo right next door. Marcus and I had played off and on when we were little.
And the there is Mrs Behr. I actually do not remember her, she must have moved there after I had moved out, but she was a loyal friend to my mother and to this day has a key to the house that is about to be sold.
When we lived in Winnipeg, the generational change taking place on my mother’s street had largely taken place. It was mostly – though not exclusively – younger families who lived on our street. We all knew each other. Our kids played together, went to school together, and by following our children we became friends with the parents of their friends. When we went to the hospital for our second child to be born, our eldest stayed with Jeff and Irene and was excited to have had Captain Crunch cereal for the first time in his life. We saw Jeff and Irene about three weeks ago.
When we moved, our friends Duncan and Leigh had a big farewell party for us at their house.
In Abbotsford it was more difficult to get to know people. We lived in the suburbs. Most of Abbotsford is the suburbs. And people drove in and out of their garages and drove to the mailbox, so it was harder to get to know the neighbours. While our kids made new friends at school and all of us had a new community at church, we missed the sense of community we had on Craig Street in Winnipeg.
One of the things I have noticed in Richmond is not only the residential construction activity pretty well anywhere in our community but some of the more extravagant homes. You know that you can see them almost anywhere. I can easily think of a few places: On Granville between 4 and 5, in the same block on Blundell, here along No 4, or sprinkled throughout the ALR. What I notice about these houses is, of course, their square footage, the stately driveways, and often the combination of many different architectural styles. But that’s not what this is about. It’s also not about gentrification and the change of neighbourhoods. What strikes me is that often the most palatial homes are along busy streets or in the midst of run down properties. And some of the biggest homes are not in neighbourhoods and, I think, that is because neighbourhoods are not important to the occupants. The homes look like someone built their dream home but their dream, as expansive as it is, is limited to their lot. Their dream does not extend into their neighbourhood or community. It is very much a private dream for a very private happiness.
In our passage from the Book of Exodus we encounter Moses who has an encounter with God. We first met Moses as an infant, saved from Pharaoh’s paranoid killing machine. Moses is now an adult. He has moved away from home, he has married Zipporah, they have a son whom Moses named Gershom, a name that remembers who Moses now is: “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land.” But maybe he had always felt that way.
Moses, whose life was spared, fled Egypt because as an adult, when he had become aware of his conflicting identities as Egyptian and privileged, as Hebrew and oppressed, had killed an Egyptian.
It is Moses – who had broken the fifth commandment before God had even given it – to whom God appears in the burning bush.
God appears to Moses even though Moses is not pure, even though Moses has committed a terrible act. This is important to note for us and for others, because no one is pure and all have fallen short of the glory of God. For years my father did not commune because he knew he had sinned. It was a shame because the truth is, we never fall out of favour with God. No one falls out of favour with God. And so God appears to Moses.
But there is a hitch. The hitch is that Moses cannot remain where he is. The escape he shad sought and found made sense at the time but God calls Moses into community. A private dream for a private happiness is not part of God’s plan. A beautiful mansion in a run down neighbourhood is not God’s idea. God’s idea is the blessing of all nations, for Israel is to be delivered to be a light unto the nations, to be a blessing unto all people. Maybe this is coming about in an awkward way, but that is the direction of God’s action and eventually of the people’s movement. And that is the reason Moses ends up packing his bags and going back to Egypt.
This is important for the church to understand. The Christian faith is not about private happiness, as much as God is not opposed to happiness. The Christian faith is not about paying our taxes and fighting the king’s wars. Following Jesus is about being a light unto the nations and bearing light where there is darkness.
This may take many forms. But it begins with knowing our neighbours and understanding the issues that concern our communities. It is in community that we become human.
The reason Jesus rebukes Peter is because Peter wants a private happiness for Jesus and his followers (“God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” – 16:22), Jesus, however, is not exclusively committed to the disciples but Jesus is committed to the whole world.
Jesus “must” suffer and die because suffering and dying are the ways of violence and are the ways of the world. To overcome violence and to redeem the world, Jesus suffers and dies.
When Jesus speaks of those who follow him needing to take up their cross, he is not saying that suffering is the way of God, but that being faithful to God’s call may involve suffering, and we know it has for many who have gone before us and many Christians who live today. For us to imagine being followers of Jesus for the sake of our private happiness is contrary to the calling of Moses and the calling of a disciple.
And yet the words we hear today bear great promise, “ … those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”