OK, there is no getting around it. I need to start this reflection by confessing that this was not an easy one to write. It is a story that will leave us today without a resolution, as you will hear in a moment in the form of a question from one of the youth in our congregation. Today there is no ending. No happily ever after. Yet…
As I wrote these open words this week, I found myself weaving together the sermon—and the confirmation lesson that the teens will be engaging in today. I would like to share a part of that experience with you visually, so…
Welcome to Bible Boot Camp!
This morning we find ourselves right HERE:
Not in the beginning, but also definitely not at the end. We are in the beginning of what is “the very beginning of” the exodus story. The exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt. But it is not THE beginning of the tale. For we begin after Moses and Aaron have already gone to Pharaoh once before (Exodus 5:1-5). They have already tried asking nicely—Let my people go. No magic. No pomp and circumstance. No ribbons. No fancy music. No confetti. Just a plea to let the Israelites, who had been enslaved for what Exodus 12 proclaims was 400 years, go. This had been a face-to-face meeting between men. Or… maybe what would be better described as a meeting of commoners with the king. Our current understanding of the Pharaohs is that they were seen as an intermediary between the people and the gods. Or, maybe even a god themselves. Moses had asked this god (little “g”) to respond to God (capital “G”). YHWH.
And Pharaoh was not impressed. In chapter 5 Pharaoh asks, “And who is God that I should listen to (God) and send Israel off? I know nothing of this so-called ‘God’ and I’m certainly not going to send Israel off” (Exodus 5:2, The Message).
Today the saga continues. We are HERE, at the beginning of the tests. The magic. The religious conflicts. What we often refer to as the plagues. God (big “G”) against god (little “g”). We are not yet at what the confirmation students will be learning is the “going out,” or the departure from Egypt.
It is into this story that we come into the present. It is here we encounter THE question. This is the story Moses, experienced and questioned by a 6-year-old. As we celebrated the baptism today, we as a church gave Finley a children’s Bible. This is one of things that we do as Church. A few months ago, there was another baptism. The child who was baptized happened to have 2 older sisters, the oldest of which is 6. A week or so before the service, I met with the parents and the 3 girls here, in the sanctuary, and we talked about “What is baptism?” In the process, I showed the older girls the gifts that their sister would be receiving, including the Bible for Young Children. The parents said to their oldest, “Oh… you can read the Bible stories to your sister!”
That is cool, right?!?!? All the “right” faith tools for a child to explore the Bible and learn the stories. Thumbs up. All is good. The baptism happened. And then… a few weeks later, the 6-year-old and her father approached me after worship one Sunday. The father said, “Pastor Kris, my daughter has been reading the Bible, and has a question for you…”
Hmmmm… OK… This is good. I smiled, and encouraged the youth to ask her question. Are you ready for it? How would you answer this? The young girl asked me, “Why would God pick some people (like Moses and the Hebrews) over others (like the Egyptians)? Why would God let bad things happen to the Egyptians?”
Whoa. These are deep, thoughtful questions. These are questions people have been asking for thousands of years! And we can look around and see the exodus stories continuing in our world today… Why do these bad things happen all around us? What role does God play in these events? In the Exodus story today it is that snakes emerge and the Nile turns red. Was this magic? Or explained by science? Were these religious experts, or false prophets? All we know from today’s reading is that the Israelites remained enslaved, and that “Pharaoh remained stubborn. He wouldn’t listen…” (Exodus 7:22b, The Message).
We are right smack in the beginning(ish) of the exodus story. We could glance ahead and find out what happens, but I encourage you not to. Instead, I would like to suggest that we need to take a moment to sit HERE. Recognize that right now, we are uncomfortable. We are in the thick of things. We are here, in the tension between Pharaoh versus Moses. Or rather, Pharaoh versus God.
And who is this God that Pharaoh asks about? In the unjust economic systems of ancient Egypt, Drorah O’ Donnell Setel writes that, “These encounters are presented as an opportunity for Yahweh, the deity of the Hebrews, to demonstrate superiority over the forces of Egypt, both political and divine, through a series of miraculous acts and afflictions.”
Ellen Davis notes that this “reveals something about God… God is revealed as a deity… (a deity) who gets derailed… for the sake of the people Israel. That revelation… (was) a completely new way of seeing God. In the ancient… imaginations, the high gods… squabbled and… feasted and accepted sacrifices from human beings… but theirs was a very limited engagement with humanity. The drastically new thing that happened (in the Exodus story)… is that the Creator of heaven and earth entered into unlimited engagement with the people Israel. Listen again: ‘I have truly seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt: their outcry I have heard, because of their oppressors; yes I know their pain; and I have come down to deliver them from the hand of Egypt’ (3:3-8).
These images are from Shaped by the Story. Today we are here (at the Promise), and we become. We become, we are, characters in God’s ongoing story. We look around. We continue to see oppression and injustice. We wonder who this God is—and what God’s agency is in these events.
We look around the world and see people stepping up, speaking up, in the face of overwhelming odds. People showing up and placing themselves in what can be dangerous, life-threatening situations. There are exodus stories… let my people go stories… all over the world. Here in our own community we have been engaging with and responding to issues of systemic racism. The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, in her book, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, writes, “What the enslaved understood and testified to in song is that God’s preferential option in the exodus story is for freedom. This is the way that we are to understand the centrality of the exodus story in the black faith. It confirms that God’s intention is for all people, including black people, to be free to live in the goodness of their very creation. It is only in freedom that people are able to reflect the very image of a God who is free from all human forms of bondage.”
Let my people go…
At the beginning of the sermon I told you that I do not have a resolution to today’s reflection, for this is a God story. A narrative in progress. We are here, in the heart of an exodus story waiting to happen. A narrative in which we are each a character. We are each a living witness to “God’s intention… for all people… to be free to live in the goodness of their very creation.”
Thus, ponder the questions of a 6-year-old. Know that it is OK to feel uncomfortable… even unraveled. Because it is into those spaces God can break forth. Over the next several weeks, we will be listening to stories from people in this faith community. Stories about how this church has blessed them. Stories of the ways in which they have encountered the Holy here. How, because of YOU, this church changes lives. God changes lives.
We are characters in God’s story. Watch… as it is revealed…
Reflection on Exodus7:14-16a, 20, 22 offered on October 6, 2019 – World Communion Sunday
 Newsom, Carol Ann., and Sharon H. Ringe. Womens Bible Commentary: . Louisville, Ky: Westminster / John Knox, 1998.