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Rooted in Flow - 18th Sunday After Pentecost

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

18th Sunday After Pentecost: Exodus 17:1-7;

Ps. 78:1-4, 12-16; Phil; 2:1-13; Mt 21:23-32

The Rev'd Cameron Partridge

October 1, 2023

Good morning. Last week I welcomed us back into the wilderness despite it being neither Advent nor Lent, and lo, we continue to make our way in that holy, challenging place as our readings carry us forward in story. And in this liminal, in-between place, the abundance of God continues to meet us, sustaining us with grace even as new challenges emerge. The grace of God continues to reveal itself in strange ways, inviting us to break open our habits of expectation to receive and respond to the outpouring flow of God among us and all creation. As our sense of possibility is transformed by God’s grace, we are called to a radical openness to its flow. Rooted in God’s abundance, our lives can become unexpectedly shaped so that we too might be poured out in collaboration with the unfolding in-breaking of God’s reign.

The abundance of God is once again on full display in our reading from Exodus (17:1-7). Last week, as you may recall, the Israelites struggled to trust God amid their winding wilderness sojourn and the very real problem of hunger (16:2-15). They longed not simply for food but for the security of the familiar that at least consistently fed them even if that familiar was also oppressive and life-denying. In response, God conveyed abundant food sources, morning and night. Manna and quail. Manna and quail. Definitely consistent. But, as our passage continues the saga, there is also the problem of drink. This was the desert. Water was a serious issue. Where were they to get it? The complaints reemerge – quarrel and testing, Massah and Meribah, the text puts it (17:7). Naming that communal response for what it is, God yet responds and now in a newly inventive way, involving Moses in the process of divine providing. Instructing him to go to a particular rock with his staff, Moses is to strike the rock just as God had earlier called him to strike the Nile, and later to stretch his hand out over the Red Sea; as Joshua would be called to make way for the Ark to be brought through the heaped up waters of the Jordan into the Promised Land; as Elijah and then Elisha would be called strike the Jordan with a rolled up mantle later still.[1] But where in these iconic moments the water parted to reveal a dry path, now the rock – desert dryness in its most compacted form, we might say – parts to let water through. The water’s flow signals the path of the Israelites’ liberation. It flows in the desert just as they were being invited to flow toward the mystery of God’s promise. They are to flow with such radical trust in God’s gracious abundance that even in the most parched places, they come to reflect God’s uncontainable, transformative possibility.

In our reading from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the iconic flow of God’s abundance comes to be reflected in the shape of Christ’s self-offering. In the second chapter of this letter to the nascent community of Jesus followers in Philippi, Paul invites the community to “let the same mind be in” them that was in Christ Jesus. Later in his letter to the Romans (using slightly different language), Paul would write about the communal call to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”[2] Jesus’ critical words to the religious authorities in our gospel passage resonates here as well: “you did not change your minds and believe” what was being proclaimed to you (Mt 21:32). This process of transformation and renewal is one we often talk about in the season of Lent, with the Greek term metanoia, which theologian Bill Countryman glosses as “get a new mind.”[3] Allow yourself to be transformed from the inside out. Here in Philippians, Paul speaks of this transformation through the language of a hymn he had likely learned in community and now taught.[4] Allow your own understanding, open your very life, to receive and give thanks for the abundant flow of Christ’s own. In Christ – in Jesus’ life and death, in his ministry to the most marginalized of our world, in his resurrection exaltation – God poured Godself into creation in order to heal, liberate, and renew it (Philippians 2:5-11). God in Christ opened a flowing pathway and invited us to follow it, to join its invitation, to be signs of God’s abundant Good News in a world parched for living waters.

As I reflected this week about emblems of Good News, and particularly about people whose lives strike me as redolent of abundant, liberating possibility, I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite athletes and activists, Billy Jean King. I know I was thinking of her this weekend in particular because yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of her iconic “Battle of the Sexes” match with Bobby Riggs. I’m imagining some of you remember this match when it happened – perhaps you watched it on TV. I wasn’t quite born yet, so I did not see it live, but Billy Jean King was a major shero of mine as I grew up, and in recent years I have watched video and read accounts of the match. Billy Jean King absolutely skewered the blatantly obnoxious male chauvinism of Bobby Riggs as part of a wider war on sexism and on systemic injustice of all kinds, inspiring the work of more recently active athletes such as Megan Rapinoe, and joining with justice movements beyond the world of professional sports. But looking back at this particular match, I cannot believe how utterly outrageous it was, and what courage it took for Billy Jean King to make her way through it, defeating Bobby Riggs in straight sets in front of millions of viewers. There was a certain outrageous flow to the event that she joined, from her willingness to be hoisted at the last minute on a mock litter as she made her way out onto the court, to her (perhaps ill-advised) pre-match gift to Bobby of a “squealing brown piglet with a pink bow that [she] named Robert Larimore Riggs, Bobby’s full name.”[5] As she explains in her memoir All In, she only went along with the piglet gift on the condition that it would be kept safe—and it was (she checked!), living out the rest of its long life on a farm (after it escaped in the Astrodome and was found after the match…). After Billy Jean won the match to world-wide acclaim, she stayed in touch with Bobby, who along the way seemed to get a new mind. “You’re too good. I underestimated you,” he had said just after the match.[6] Over the years the two worked together from time to time, leveraging their match for social change. In Bobby’s final days, they had a phone call. “His voice was very weak,” Billy Jean reports, “but one of the last things he said to me was ‘We did make a difference, didn’t we?’ I said, ‘I love you Bobby.’ He said, ‘I love you.’”[7] Something in the wild, bizarre excess of this event, of the transformation that flowed from it and from Billy Jean’s life of courage, authenticity as an openly queer person (with some rocky experiences along the way, relayed in the book), her organizing and advocacy, her striking leadership, strikes me as a sign of divine abundance. Of the possibility of transformation, of abiding love, emerging in the flow of the most unexpected places.

In this time in our calendar, we also turn to our call to stewardship, a vocation we seek to live year-round but that we focus upon in the fall as we pledge support for this congregation for the coming year. Our theme this year is Rooted in Abundance, reflecting the life flowing into our midst from our divine source, the God who made all creation and invites us to reveal the in-breaking divine reign. In the coming weeks, leading up to our pledge card in-gathering on November 26th, we will hear stories from one another of how St. Aidan’s has called us into this rooting in divine abundance, how the flow of our communal life has lifted us up and called us out into the world to participate in the in-breaking of God’s dream. I look forward to these stories, to the surprise and consolation, to the challenge and the inspiration that flows in this abundant, vibrant community. May all of us open ourselves afresh in this season of creation, of wilderness life, of abundant, transforming grace, to be rooted in the flow of God’s abundance.

[1] Ex 17:6; Ex 7:17; Ex 14:16; Joshua 3:7-17; 2 Kings 2:8 & 2:14. [2] Philippians 2:5 – τοῦτο φρονεῖτε from φρονέω; Romans 12:2 – μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοός [3] William Countryman, Forgiven and Forgiving (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1998), p. 2, quoting William Temple, Christian Faith and Life, 67. Countryman (p. 3): “Conversion is nothing less than having our minds transformed according to the mind of God. By God’s grace, we see things differently. And conversion – this new grasp of the world we live in – makes forgiveness possible for us… We can’t make [acquiring God’s mind] happen to us. God is the only one who can give that gift. We can, however, be open to it, and we do that through repentance – the kind of repentance Archbishop Temple wrote about.” [4] On Phil 2:5-11: “Most think that Paul wrote but did not create these lines; they are probably a prePauline hymn that the Philippians knew and that Paul may have taught them at the time of his first visit.” Raymond Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 489-493. [5] Billy Jean King, All In: An Autobiography (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2021), 250-251 [6] King, 257 [7] King, 362

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