Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby
June 14, 2020 Worship Sermon - "Liberation on Eagles Wings"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Exodus 19:2-8a; Psalm 100; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35--10:8 [9-23]
You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you up on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.
I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy going to the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge. Every now and then, I have been fortunate enough to be there when one of the bald eagles has been soaring above the marsh. It’s truly a magnificent sight, how the eagle hovers effortlessly in the wind, almost never needing to flap its wings. It appears steady and motionless as it circles above the water.
God uses the image of an eagle to describe how God liberated the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Truly, it was a sight, how God used signs and wonders to convince the Egyptians to let the Israelites go… how God separated the waters of the Red Sea so that the people of Israel could walk safely to freedom on the other side. All the people of Israel had to do was watch as God acted on their behalf.
But it’s worth remembering that when all of this was happening, that ride on eagles’ wings did not feel all that smooth for the people of Israel … no, it was absolutely terrifying. The people faced crisis after crisis: the crisis of being trapped on the shores of the Red Sea… the crisis of crossing the desert with no water… the crisis of starvation in the wilderness. As the people of Israel faced each new difficulty, they cried out for deliverance. God heard their cries and brought them to safety. But it was only in retrospect that they could see God’s protective hand guiding them through each crisis, lifting them out of bondage, and carrying them to freedom.
This week, both our country and our congregation celebrate anniversaries. On June 19th, we celebrate the 155th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the United States. And on June 20th, our congregation celebrates the 100th anniversary of ministry here in Upper Darby. As we look back on the events commemorated by these anniversaries, we can truly see God’s hand working. We see God’s hand working in the lives of the people of faith who fought slavery, people like Edward Garrett, for whom Garrett Road is named, who served on the Underground Railroad. We also see God’s hand working in the lives of the people of faith who established this congregation, people who knew 100 years ago that this neighborhood would benefit from a church where people could gather and pray and learn and serve.
As we look back on these anniversaries, we can see God’s hand working. We can see God lifting us on eagles’ wings and carrying us into freedom. But we also can see how this journey to freedom has been peppered with crises… moments when we were not sure how we could move forward.
The abolition of slavery on June 19, 1865, did not end racial injustice in our country and we have seen crisis after crisis during the years since as our country struggled to live out its principles of liberty and justice for all. The uprising in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd is only the most recent example of our country struggling to live out the freedom that God wants for all people.
Likewise, the founding of this congregation on June 20, 1920, didn’t mean that everything would be rosy from then on. The sixties and seventies were a really difficult time for this congregation. We almost didn’t survive. But now, looking back, we can see how God used the crises of the last century to transform this congregation in a way that would make it better suited to serve the needs of Upper Darby in 2020.
Truly, God is carrying us on eagles’ wings. As we face each new crisis in our history, we cry out to God for deliverance and trust that God will guide us into the future that God intends. Right now, we as a congregation face the crisis of not being able to gather in person. Who knows how God will use this crisis to bring about something better for our community?
When God gathered the people of Israel at Sinai, God reminded them of what God had done to deliver them and then God gave them a mission. “You will be for me a kingdom of priests.” A priest is someone who intercedes before God on behalf of others. God delivered the people of Israel so that they, in turn, could deliver the rest of humanity. That’s what is happening in the gospel reading from Matthew: Jesus is sending out his disciples to deliver sick people who were in need of healing, to deliver lepers who were in need of cleansing, to deliver the demon-possessed who were in need of liberation.
As our congregation faces its next one hundred years, we have this same mission to work for the deliverance of our community. That seems like a monumental task and you may wonder whether we have what it takes to accomplish this mission. But it doesn’t depend on us. God carries us on eagles’ wings. You, Christ Lutheran Community Church are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Share with others the deliverance you yourself have received.