Delivered at Ames UCC
on October 2, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
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heard rather than read.
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I’m going to start with the interesting, and then go to the urgent and the uncertain.
Last week we met Joseph, descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel. He rose to great power in Egypt. But over time God’s promise of many generations to Joseph’s family became intolerable to the rulers of Egypt. Over time, the pharaohs felt the need to control these alien people as they would enemies, as they would property.
By Moses’ generation, the Hebrew people are enslaved. Moses was born at a time of pogrom so his mother found a way for him to be adopted into Pharaoh’s home. He grew up with a princess for a mom, but had to flee that life of privilege after murdering an overseer who was brutalizing Hebrews.
But God lured him back. God convinced Moses that if he would yes, together they would set Moses’ original people free.
When we catch up with Moses today, God has given Pharaoh the chance to do the right thing. But each time Pharaoh refuses, a plague besets the Egyptian people. After nine refusals and plagues, God promises a tenth and final plague: a virus that will wipe out first born males just as Pharaoh had done so many times himself.
Before taking that final step, though, God needed more people than just Moses, to say yes to liberation.
And so on this night before the great escape it was important for the people to mark themselves and their homes. Like Moses, they needed to formally and publicly declare themselves as ones allegiant to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, and Moses. Thus the shared meal and blood on the lintel.
But that’s not the only way the Hebrews distinguish themselves from others. In this passage we also hear about the establishment of a new Hebrew calendar, a new first month of a new year. It is a new way of tracking time for a new life.
And then they flee, leaving behind God’s destruction.
Here the interesting bit: The ritual meals of unleavened bread and meat likely already existed before any flight from captivity.
The idea is that in order to mark this liberation, or maybe one that occurred over time, or maybe one that never happened in such clear terms at all, the Hebrew people merged the two into a story and a holy day that accords power to God.
Whatever actually happened to the ancient Hebrews, the story they came to tell may simply have justified existing practices in light of a new understanding of God.
Think of it like having Christmas in December and decorating trees: Both are holdovers from earlier religions that marked the winter solstice and looked forward to spring. Now they are integral to who we are, but they did not come to us with Jesus in the manger. Whereas the ancient Hebrews started a new calendar, we just usurped the old one.
Kind of interesting.
URGENT AND UNCERTAIN
But there are more than just curiosities in the beginnings of the exodus. There is also urgency. God says,
This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste…
I know many of us eat in haste in our cars and at our desks. That’s not this kind of haste. This is not a hastiness of deadlines and busyness.
God is preparing the people for the urgency of life-saving action.
They will not mosey out of Egypt at the time appointed by a planning committee with repeated delays due to camel trouble and tots who won’t put on their sandals. At any moment, maybe even in the moment of their last settled meal, everything may change. Soon everything will change.
So don’t let your clothes trip you up. You will need to sprint from the evil that profits from your captivity. You will not have time to carry anything but the people you love, so carbo load and get ready to go.
Go where? That is uncertain. God and Moses have not plotted coordinates and secured affordable housing. The story is just about getting out, fleeing. The burning need of the “where from” distracts from there “where to.” “Where to” does not matter when the “where they are” is so awful.
Interesting, urgent, and uncertain.
PLEDGE JUST IN CASE
I need to work Pledge Sunday into this sermon somewhere. Next week is the date by which our Financial Stewardship Team hopes we will all make a financial pledge for 2017.
So I will say this: Ames UCC is an interesting place.
For all of our traditions and old-fashioned appearances, we are also a place of preparation for the urgent and the uncertain.
As I alluded to earlier, we don’t know what “really” happened to the Hebrews. No evidence has yet emerged to suggest that any one part of the flight from Egypt really happened as described here. It seems to be more a “just so story.” This is why we have such a feast.
Interestingly, the limited potential for historical fact has not stopped Passover from being relevant, and true. I think of all of the times in their history that people who are Jewish have had to flee and be prepared to flee—Spain, Russia, and Germany.
I think about how important this story was to Black slaves in America. Their freedom did not come all at once, but accounts of escape read much this way: Watch for the sign, be ready to run! Likewise, the accounts of Syrian refugees waiting for smugglers’ boat sound the same.
It’s unlikely any of us now in this central Iowa church will be in such a position, but I wonder if our deep genetics and deep consciousness insist we tell the stories in order to be prepared.
Just in case.
Just in case we have to bolt, we will have a story to explain how and why.
Just in case we have already run away, like Moses, from pain that we do not yet recognize is ours, we will have an explanation for why we ultimately felt drawn back, drawn to a place of screaming need to be of service and help, even if we don’t know where helping might take us.
If Ames UCC is a place of more than interesting information, but one that helps you to find your role in this world, if being here helps prepare you and engage you, please make a pledge for next year.
In truth, there is no “just in case.” In truth, we are all in proximity to, complicit with, and bound up by slaveries of every kind.
But if Moses the murderer could partner with God, then with our own cloaks tucked into our belts and our bellies fortified at Christ’s table, we are more than ready to follow God’s urgent lead from where we know there is bondage into the uncertain wilderness of freedom.