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Blessing and Promise: Times of Trial

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You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection, Blessing and Promise: Times of Trial, HERE.

It is good to see you all here today! How are you doing? As for myself… WOW! This has been quite a week, and the Bible story resonates with humanity’s never-ending story of God’s presence and action in times of trial.

We have just jumped into the middle of a great saga. And no, I am not referring to our own condition in the United States where we learned in the past 72 (plus or minus) hours about national leaders who have tested positive for the coronavirus and all the disquieting that has brought—but here: the tenth, and final, horrifying plague which has befallen the people of Egypt. If we were to attempt to place a dot on a historical timeline, a best guess is that if these events happened, they occurred about 3,300 years ago, or around 1,300 B.C. E. (Before Common Era), but “there is no archaeological evidence to corroborate… the events.”[1]

So, what does the plight of the Hebrew people in Egypt have to do with us today? How many of you have read Exodus, chapters 7-12? How many have read those passages recently? The litany of curses the people endured is unsettling. I often hear this is why some progressive Christians today do not like the Old Testament. Yet, in the midst of our own multitude of community outbreaks, these tales hit close to home.

Try it. I bet we can name at least 10 current plagues. From climate change and global warming, to the subsequent hurricanes, tropical storms, and wildfires, to movements calling out systemic racism, the ideology of white supremacy—earlier this year we even heard about murder hornets—and… of course… COVID-19. I just rattled off 8 plagues in 2020 alone. Can you think of others? If so, I invite you to add them in the “chat” or “comments.”

Members and friends shared these additional plagues: Flooding earlier this year in the Midwest, transphobic murders, partisanship in government, and isolation

Setting aside all scientific evidence behind how the plagues may have fallen upon our biblical ancestors, I am drawn to the importance of encountering God in community—and around a meal. God says, “Be dressed for a road trip. Have your shoes on. Be ready.”

Be ready. For the time is here. It is time to think the unthinkable. Young and old, families large and small, the Hebrew people had had enough and were getting ready to ditch the enslavement and life-taking oppression of the Pharaoh’s empire. It is mindboggling to imagine the layer upon layer of emotions which must have been pounding in their hearts: empowerment, hope, the relief they were in this together (you are not alone), anxiety, fear of violence (would the authorities hunt them down?), the never ending worry “is this really the right thing to do?” and an incomprehensible level of unknowing around “what in the world” might lie ahead.

What about us? Do any of those feelings resonate for you today? I know that I have experienced ALL of those feelings myself… just in the last week.

Still, the Hebrew people of long ago prepared for the unthinkable journey ahead. They marked the doorways of their homes as a plague advanced.

Unsettling details follow. There is death and mourning throughout the country. Not even the most secure household in all of Egypt, the Pharaoh’s own palace, was immune from this pandemic.

OK. Reality check. Did you watch any of the news in the past 7 days? Wow. The headlines echo all of these ancient horrors. In 2020, we have experienced multiple plagues, and heard multiple exodus stories. At this very moment, each and every one of us is living into an exodus moment of one kind or another. Each of our stories is unique, some of us have been more negatively impacted by the Pharaoh’s empire than others… but none of us is immune from the effects of climate change, global warming, or the coronavirus.

Even our beloved faith community, Memorial UCC, is on an exodus journey. I remember the day back in March I walked around the church one last time before the presence of the coronavirus in our community made us lock the doors. What did I need to take with me for the journey of days ahead? I took a picture of the building. A cross. Some of cloth for marking sacred spaces while we were in our scattering. Supplies for communion. The Christ Candle. The last thing I grabbed was the rainbow quilt which has been moving with us for 30 years ago since we had the old church in Madison. We could rewrite scripture with our own migration moment: Stay home. Wash your hands. If you go out, put your mask on. Stay six feet apart… and get ready for an incomprehensible level of unknowing around “what in the world” might lie ahead.

Throughout time and across faith traditions, God calls on people to remember their stories. To remember who they are, as people gathered around tables in times of trial. And so today, we remember exodus moments can look like the Black Lives Matter movement. A new narrative, told through videos and rallies downtown. One in which our siblings who are Black, brown, and indigenous are not going to live under the oppression of Pharaoh any longer.

Or, an exodus moment can look like a social media post. A friend of mine who is Jewish shared one late Tuesday night. After the presidential debate and the president’s shout out to white supremacists, the first thing her adult son did was check his passport. Then he wrote on FaceBook, “this is why Jews always make sure we have up to date passports. A sad and frightening time for our country!” (https://www.facebook.com/bonnie.margulis.7)

A sad and frightening time.

And so much more has happened just since Tuesday.

Beloved, as we prepare to gather at the Table and celebrate the 87th anniversary of World Communion, there is an urgent need to remember. To remember God’s presence and sustenance in times of trial. So, if you have communion elements nearby, would you hold them up for all of us to see? Whatever you have: bread, rolls, donuts, juice, wine, coffee, or tea. While you are getting the elements, I will note that what we do during communion in remembering Jesus’ meal with his friends in Jerusalem is different than the Passover meal our friends who are Jewish participate in each year. However, faith in an ongoing meal, a never-ending story—that God is always with us—and this truth runs throughout humanity’s narrative.

People of God, take a look. This is our story, in the midst of a pandemic. Ten (plus) plagues. God sees and hears with world’s sorrows. In the midst of plague, our gathering affirms God works to sustain us and bring life.

Let us gather at the Table and remember the importance of encountering God in community, around a meal—wherever we are.

~ Pastor Kris

Reflection on Exodus 12:1-13 and 13:1-8 offered October 4, 2020

[1] Nyasha Junior, Women’s Bible Commentary: Revised and Updated, ed. Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe, and Jacqueline E. Lapsley (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 56.