Exodus: On That Very Day
Exodus: On That Very Day
November 5, 2017
At the beginning of our text, we are told that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt for 430 years: “At the end of four hundred and thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.” For generation after generation, the people were slaves. Over that time, they must have altogether forgotten what freedom felt like, they must have given up on any chance at a different life. These people must have done what human beings almost always do: they got used to it! They adjusted. They grew comfortable. In fact, if you do a little reading, you learn that they became some of the best brick makers around. I bet they took a certain pride in that: “It’s not a great life but…we do the best we can. We make do. And we make awesome bricks!”
Then, one day…all that changed. God had sent some guy named Moses to set the people free. Even the slaves must have laughed when they heard that Moses showed up in Pharaoh’s court and shared that plan. Who doesn’t love a crackpot? When Pharaoh refused and the plagues started up, that certainly must have grabbed everyone’s attention. The flies were annoying. The boils were repulsive. The locusts? How awful was that? Everyone had to admit…something was happening here! When the last plague started to unfold, people—slave or free—had to realize that this conflict was escalating in a whole new way. The people are instructed to ask the Egyptians for silver and gold—“a little ‘somethin,’somethin,” if you will. We are told that, with a little nudge from God, the Egyptians make a contribution or two or ten. (Is this the collective guilt of the Egyptians manifesting itself?) Then, God tells Moses that every firstborn Egyptian human and Egyptian calf is going to die but no harm will come to the Israelites. They are to mark their doors with the blood of the lamb. The plague will pass over them. All of Egypt groans with the pain of loss. And Pharaoh, the most powerful man on earth, let’s the people go.
For 430 years, the people of Israel had forgotten what freedom was and forgotten who they were as a people. For 430 years, the people were forgotten by the rest of the world. Then, one day, God heard their cries. Then, Moses and his ten plagues descend upon Egypt until the people are released. God heard the cries of the most insignificant, overlooked and ignored people on earth. God liberated them.
This morning, I want to start a four part sermon series that will lead us into Advent. Over the next few weeks, I want to put four pivotal experiences for our ancestors in faith in front of you: exodus, wilderness, excess, and exile. There are things we need to learn or remind ourselves of when it comes to these primary experiences of God’s presence. There are connections that we need to make to our own lives. In the end, though, it is these four archetypal moments in life that move both our ancestors and ourselves to desperately need to hear the good news of the Word made flesh, of God-incarnate, of the light that comes into the darkness. So…let’s take a walk…
Back to the notion of the power of what is familiar. If anything seems obvious and true about human beings, it is our incredible ability to get used to just about anything. If what is happening happens long enough, it just becomes the way things are. We adjust. We accommodate. We adapt to the new normal. It doesn’t even take that long for the new normal to just be the normal that seems like it has always been the case. Let me offer a couple of examples…
Do you remember the first time you saw a cell phone? I do. It came in its own little briefcase and looked like a regular phone. It had a cord and everything! The person who had it was a dad of one of my youth group members. I saw it and thought he had lost his mind! What an extravagance! What a ridiculous thing to spend money on! Can you imagine if all of a sudden everyone had been carrying around an iPhone? We would have thought that everyone had lost their minds, staring at those rectangles in their hands.
Do you remember when you first heard about personal computers? It was crazy! A single computer took up a whole huge room at my college. It ran with a zillion cards that were fed through it. Yet, I had this friend—Hal—who worked for this startup company named Apple, and Hal was insistent that before too long, every one of us was going to have a computer on our desk. I thought Hal was crazy! (I probably should have paid attention to the fact that he made $60,000 working for that Apple company over the course of just one summer…)
Do you remember the first time when you saw a car that had motorized windows that went up and down when you pushed a button? “Since when did we become incapable of rolling up the windows?” Do you remember the first time you rode in a car with heated seats? (I do! I turned my friend’s seat on high on the way to Comiskey Park in August. He was sure that he was running a terrible fever!) Do you remember when your car came with a tape deck in it and that seemed so unnecessary when we all knew how well an eight track player worked?
Somehow, our phones got smaller and more powerful. Our eight track player was replaced by a cassette deck which was replaced by CDs which seem so antiquated now compared to the truth that my phone can hold every song that I have ever owned. The heated seat in my car is one of the few comforting thoughts that I have as winter approaches again. (I swear that I will never own a car without heated seats ever again!) Oh ya…and that computer thing? I think it is here to stay.
All of this technology makes our lives different— there is no question about that. Just pause and remember when the television had four channels and sometime around midnight all broadcasting ceased—only to begin again the next morning with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner! I think though that there is a real question about whether this technology has made our lives better. (The internet makes us more connected but has also left us at various moments more jaded, more lonely and more mean.) Is it really a benefit to be available all the time no matter where on earth you go? Is it really a benefit to give every crackpot a platform to make their twisted version of the truth look just as valid as everyone else’s truth? Are we better off because we have been exposed to everything? Are our kids better off?
My point, this morning, is simply to remember that these changes have come at us so hard and fast that we barely remember to question them. However, what we do as fast as they come is we get used to them. (I remember when I was a kid and an adult in my life told me that twenty thousand dollars was the ceiling on what anyone would ever pay for a car. Now, it is a challenge to find a new car that really costs less than twenty thousand dollars—when you get the heated seats!) Things that were unimaginable become necessities. Things that would have been unacceptable become “just the way it is.” We adjust…and sometimes we altogether forget what adjusting may have cost us.
When Moses showed up in Pharaoh’s court, he delivered a message on two fronts. First, he let Pharaoh know that change was coming (at which point Pharaoh did what every person with some power thinks they can do: he thinks he has the power to stop the change from coming.) Second, when Moses says this to Pharaoh, the notion begins to filter out to the people that change might just be possible. As slaves for a long time, this was not a thought that people woke up with on their own. It took someone with vision and a calling and a lot of courage to plant that seed.
Significant change in an individual’s life, in a family’s life, in a congregation’s life or a community’s life or the life of a nation, still takes that person with vision and a calling and a lot of courage to name what’s missing, to call out the change that needs to take place. Someone has to remind us of who we could be and of how things could be. Someone has to have faith, even when we don’t. Someone has to believe in the real possibilities before us to which we remain blind. And all of this will take time.
It will also be a change that is hard-won. Suffering is necessary. Again, Pharaoh doesn’t listen to Moses and say, “Ok…you’ve convinced me!” Things get worse before they get better. Both the oppressor and the oppressed need to be convinced. What’s familiar is incredibly powerful: “This is just the way it has always been!” What benefits me is hard to let go of: Pharaoh had to wonder, “Who’s going to make my bricks?” Even the slaves had to be daunted by the notion of what in the world might come next. Even the slaves had to wonder, “What kind of a God would care about us?”
And yet, one day, everything changes. One day, the Pharaoh known as alcoholism or opiod addiction or plain old nicotine addiction looks you in the eye and says, “Go!” One day, a bad relationship gets so bad that you can here the voice in your head say, “Run…now!” One day, the horrible job that is the familiar but horrible job becomes the horrible job that I quit…just a minute ago.” One day, you are no longer a slave to what controlled you yesterday. You are free. And somehow, in ways that you can’t entirely explain, God is in the midst of this—in the voice of someone who told you things didn’t have to be that way anymore, in the suffering and the anguish that happened when things got worse before they got better.
Exodus…There is still a God who hears our cries when we are sure that no one and certainly no God cares. There is still a God who sends us brave visionaries who deliver us from the things that enslave us. There still are moments when we are stopped in our tracks by the freedom that is possible if we are willing to step into the unknown—what is unfamiliar, what is wilderness. Exodus…