Sermon Sunday September 10, 2023 Proper 18 (Picnic at
Nancy O’Brien’s House)
Lessons: Exodus 12:1-14
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
Janelle M Rivera wrote this poem about God’s love for us. It
is entitled: Agape
Unconditional love that knows no bounds
Warmly embraces me without judgment
His voice fills my ears with heavenly sounds
Jesus causing a shift in my movement
None of it makes sense, it baffles me so
I kept running away yet He would still wait
Relentlessly pursuing me until I know
That my home coming is never too late
I savor the times we spend together
When we’re in a crowd dancing and laughing
Or in nature’s beauty and warm weather
Even the grief and anger-filled crying
Through my pain and brokenness, He remains
An overwhelming love that breaks my chains
Today’s lessons seem to be bound up in one word: love!
They are bound up in God’s love for us. God’s infinite and
unconditional love for us. They are bound up in our love for
God! Our finite and conditional love for God? They are
bound up in our love for each other! Our sometimes and
fleeting love for each other?
We learn of Jesus Christ being the sacrificial Lamb—the
innocent Lamb by whose death we are reconciled with God.
We hear these words right before we receive communion—
Alleluia! Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us! Upon
reading today’s O.T. Lesson from Exodus, these words
immediately came to mind. In this Bible passage we have
the defining moment of the Jewish people with God. What
we call the Passover. In the Passover we see the sacrifice of
the innocent lamb for the preservation and life of God’s
In today’s Epistle from Paul to the Romans we are reminded
to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And today’s Gospel
from Matthew seems to have some pretty harsh words about
how to treat those who are considered to have offended God and their neighbor. In fact, it seems that all of today’s
lessons could be considered harsh.
What is love? The kind of love that we are talking about
here? Well, to try and describe the kind of love that we see
and experience in each of the Readings, let’s begin by
saying what it is not. This type of love is not fluffy, it is not
sweet, it is not sighs. This kind of love is not butterflies and
rainbows, it is not easy, it is not all fun and games.
What is this kind of love? This kind of love is tough, it is
long-term, it is down-to-earth. This type of love is resilient,
it is more than a feeling, it is cacti and wind storms. It is
what is called agape love. Christianity.com says of agape
love…”it refers to a pure, willful, sacrificial love that
intentionally desires another’s highest good.” (Think of a
parent’s constant and unwavering love for their child.)
“Agape love is a sacrificial love that unites and heals. Agape
love is a love of choice, not out of attraction or obligation.”
Nothing is expected in return. Agape love is love that comes
from God and is part of God’s character—in other words—it
is who God is.
Agape love is like this story: “A man is beaten while
traveling between towns and is left to die. A priest and a
Levite, both considered “men of God” chose not to help him
(OUCH!) A Samaritan, a despised outsider for the Jewish
people, found him, and not only cared for him, but made
sure he continued to be cared for.” That is agape love.
We see this type of love at work in each of today’s Scripture
readings. We see God’s love for the Jewish people at work
in the Passover and their liberation from slavery to the
But wait a minute! What about the Egyptians who suffered
such horrible loss through the death of the firstborn? How is
that agape love from God? This is really tough, and I have
heard many different explanations for this, for this God of
Perhaps there is love in helping people to learn that
enslaving others is an abomination, not only for the
enslaved, but for those who are doing the enslaving?
I am not privy to God’s mind on this, but let’s look at a
couple of different ideas. Could the plague that took the
firstborn of Egypt been of a natural cause? The 1 st plague of
blood could have been a red algae bloom infecting the grain
supply of Egypt with mycotoxins. Since the firstborn were
the privileged, they would have gotten first dibs on the new
grain, and been the first infected from the mycotoxins, and
therefore the first to die. That’s not to say that God had
nothing to do with the actual Exodus itself. The ancients
would have connected this with the stubbornness of Pharaoh
to let the Jewish people go.
Another thought from rabbinic midrash (a further
commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures), is that Pharaoh,
seeing the havoc that was ensuing took out his own anger on
the Egyptian people. God would have cried with the
Egyptians too in either case.
I am not sure that these explanations or any others offer
anything that might bring us to a real conclusion why the
death of the firstborn took place. What I believe is important
for us is that in the Exodus, God declares to the entire
Jewish people that he is YHWH, the great “I Am Who I
Am”. I am before the gods of Egypt. You are my people and
I love you. The Epistle’s exhortation for us to love our
neighbors as ourselves is a cry for there to be agape love
among us. For if we love ourselves and treat each other in
that same love as Jesus directed us, then we will live into
those tough choices that bring no hurt nor harm to others. It is and unconditional love. It is agape love. It is a love that
fulfills the law of Moses.
Today’s Gospel Lesson from Matthew seems more than a bit
tough too, doesn’t it? We might think that the lesson is to
throw out those people who do not recognize when they
have done something wrong, or in other words, committed a
sin! How can that be agape love?
So, first of all, if we dig just a big deeper, we can discover
that the goal of today’s Gospel lesson is one of
reconciliation. It is reconciliation with God, with the church
community, and with oneself. I would venture to say that the
reconciliation goes even a bit deeper. This is not just
individual reconciliation we are talking about here, but
corporate or societal reconciliation. In this Gospel we have a
path laid out for reconciliation with God, our neighbor,
ourself, and all of God’s creation.
What could be a greater reflection of agape love than to
recognize the wrongdoing of slavery, or human trafficking,
or wanton destruction of the earth’s resources, and seek
reconciliation where there is so much hurt?
Think of a time in your life when someone or someones
have pointed out to you something that you did that wasn’t exactly right. That takes a great deal of courage and love—
selfless, unconditional love for you. And as we go through
our lives this week, let us echo the love we receive from
God, through our communion with Jesus Christ our Lamb.
Let it echo into our thoughts and actions as best expressed
by the agape love of Janelle’s Agape poem. Amen.