“Not Your Ordinary Wild Goose Chase”
23 August 2020
All Saints, Kapaa, HI
In my time here on Kaua‘i, I have been glad to see the return in numbers of the Nene, or Hawaiian Geese. Just the other day, I saw a group of about six of them grazing on our own church lawn! Like other geese, they have their own way of relating to one another and of being in community with each other. They actually support each other and help to protect one another.
This morning, I want us to learn from geese as we examine two of our passages in tandem: Romans 12:1-8 and Exodus 1:8-2:10. The first has to do with the Apostle Paul’s explanation of the faith to the church in Rome, whom he was about to visit for the first time and thus wanted to send an introduction of himself and of his view of the Gospel ahead of his visit. The second is the story of the birth of Moses in Egypt, and like last week’s Gospel lesson showing us a strong woman of faith, there are no less than five such women in this story without whom Moses would not have been born and indeed arguably the Jewish people might have been nothing more than a footnote in history. Together, the women in this story save the Israelites, resulting years later in their freedom from Egyptian slavery and eventually their becoming a nation in their own right.
Learning from the example of geese, we will use the outline for whole-self stewardship found in our Romans 12 reading and with each of our three points look at the strong women in Exodus 1-2 as examples for us to emulate. So “Geese, Romans, and Exodus” will be our format for each point as we ponder a renewed sense of stewardship.
Paul in Romans 12 is following up on chapter 11, in which he shows God’s great over-the-top love and mercy for all people, no matter who they are, what group they belong to, or what they have done in their past. Paul wants his people to be “living sacrifices,” and yet this seems strange because sacrifices in the Old Testament tended to be (1) dead; and (2) as perfect as can be. Yet the Roman church then and we today are neither, but Paul nevertheless wants them and us to be “living sacrifices.” There are three steps to this that we will look at:
- A Renewed Sense of Vision: Romans 12:1-2
- A Renewed Sense of Vocation: Romans 12:3-5
- A Renewed Sense of Vigor: Romans 12:6-8
A Renewed Sense of Vision: Romans 12:1-2
Geese: They fly in a “V” formation. Ornithologists (bird scientists) have discovered why they do so. The first reason is to achieve a common direction: As each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird behind and to the side of it. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds about 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.
Romans: In the first two verses of Romans 12, Paul’s vision for the Roman church members is that they would offer their bodies (meaning whole selves) as living sacrifices, and in order to do this they need to develop a God-given vision of the way to live. They are to allow God to renew their minds so that they can see and do God’s will in their lives, and this gives them a common direction. To me, this involves two views:
(1) Thankfulness for God’s goodness in the past – quote from St. Teresa of Ávila, 16th-century Spanish mystic and head of a religious order – “O God, please save me from thankless Christians!”;
(2) Hope for God’s blessings in the future: Look for God’s presence and activity in our lives, as an impetus for staying on course in God’s good will.
Exodus: The two Egyptian midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, knew they should do the right things an honor God more than following their Pharaoh’s cruel plan. They saved many Hebrew boys, which leads to the birth of Moses and him being saved as well. They had the right vision, and so God grants their hope of having their own families.
Us: Do we have the right vision and thus are we going in the right direction with God? How much of our lives are filled with thankfulness for God and hope in God?
A Renewed Sense of Vocation: Romans 12:3-5
Geese: Another reason geese fly in a “V” formation is, when the lead goose gets tired it rotates back in the formation and another goose flies in the point position. They each know their roles, and will support each other and play their part.
Romans: Paul goes on in verses 3-5 to spell out that members of church have different roles but are one body in their support of each other and thus called to work in concert with each other.
There is a story of two men who were riding a tandem bicycle built for two. They came to a steep hill. It took a great deal of struggle for the men to complete what proved to be a very stiff climb. When they got to the top, the man in front turned to the other in back and said, “Whew, that sure was a hard climb!” The fellow in back replied, “Yeah, and if I hadn’t kept the brakes on all the way, we would have certainly rolled back down!” POINT: It would have helped to have been united in what they were doing, to get to where they were going. Had they fulfilled their roles in concert with each other, then they would have achieved much more.
Exodus: Our third strong women in our Exodus story of the birth of Moses is his own birth mother. Unnamed, she plays a vital part that would have profound ramifications for both Moses and for the people of Israel. From the priestly family of Levi, she gave birth to Moses, hid him for three months, and then entrusts him to God’s care by making a papyrus basket, putting him into it, and placed the basket on the edge of the Nile River where there would be a good chance it would get spotted. Later, when Pharaoh’s daughter ends up adopted baby Moses, his birth mother then willingly plays the role of his wet-nurse and, in what must have been a heart-wrenching act, gives him back in adoption for Pharaoh’s daughter to raise within the royal household of Egypt. Moses’ bio mom knew her changing roles and willingly fulfilled her vocation, and thus fulfilled God’s plan.
Us: God calls us to live into our vocation sharing the variety of our gifts, skills, and inclinations for the greater glory of God and for the blessing of all around us. Like a superb orchestra, each of us as a role to play that contributes to the greater good by serving in concert with one another. We may think we have little or no part to play, or that we do but have not had the right place to put that to practice. But like the geese that know their place but can fill in the pukas where necessary, we each can play a vital role. None of us can do everything, but each of us can do something.
A Renewed Sense of Vigor: Romans 12:6-8
Geese: Geese also honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. Additionally, when a goose gets sick or wounded and falls out of formation, two other geese will join it down to help and protect it. They then stay with it until it is either able to fly again, then the three of then form a “V” and continue. Geese know how to make the extra effort to look out for each other.
Romans: The tone of the verses from Romans is to do whatever you are doing to the Nth degree. In the original Greek, the tone is: “If you are serving, really serve! If you are teaching, teach with enthusiasm! If you are leading, govern diligently! If you are showing mercy, do so cheerfully!” Wherever God has placed us, serve with all the vigor you can muster - no half measures.
Exodus: Our fourth and fifth strong women from Exodus 1-2 show us how to be living sacrifices filled with vigor. Pharaoh’s daughter goes above and beyond in her love for baby Moses – when she notices him floating in the basket, even though she recognizes him as a Hebrew boy, she nevertheless wants to adopt him and love him as her own – in defiance to her father the Pharaoh’s genocidal command! Additionally, Moses’ older sister, whom later we come to know as Miriam, follows the papyrus basket containing Moses on the Nile River to see what would become of him. When she sees Pharaoh’s daughter retrieve him, she takes the initiative and offers to get a wet-nurse for the boy – only to bring back Moses’ bio mom! Both these women show us the extra mile effort they take with the roles God gave them.
Us: Helen Keller, born deaf, blind, and mute: “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. For the world is moved along not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker.” Nothing done with a whole-hearted attempt will be in vain in God’s economy.
The upshot from the world of geese: NO LONE RANGERS – EVERYONE HAS A PART TO PLAY. Realize your vision, vocation, and vigor in order to offer a true living sacrifice to God.
All of this will help us, as well, understand a wider definition of malama, or caring stewardship, that goes way beyond mere fundraising for our church. The Vestry and I have been looking at a new approach to stewardship for the Fall called “Malama Matters” that involves a personal talk-story approach and an appeal for all of us to live into our calling as God’s people at All Saints’ and to re-examine how God can use our skills, likes, resources, and our whole lives to glorify God and to be a blessing to each other and to our wider community and world.
Maya Angelou, the great contemporary poet who passed away just six years ago, said something that relates to a sense of right vision, vocation, and vigor to be a living sacrifice: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” May God make it so in our lives and in our church ‘ohana as we live out the stewardship of God’s malama. Amen.