Archive for June 17th, 2017

Reliance

June 17, 2017

Exodus is lesson after lesson that teaches the wisdom of reliance on God.  Yes, this is an ancient document – and yes, the cultural references and religious expressions described in the early books of the Old Testament often seem nonsensical to us.  But they are very much a part of our own history, because they help us to understand Jesus.  These are the stories Jesus knew – these are the tribes that populate Jesus family tree;  The ancient Hebrew people are our relations too, and their lessons are for our benefit.

The back-story to this morning’s old testament lesson is the stuff of Hollywood legend.  CB deMille has left his mark on our theology, and most of us can remember being spell-bound by Charlton Heston acting as God’s agent in Egypt – proclaiming Egypt’s doom and displaying the power of God.  The first nine plagues speed by in cinematic splendour.  The tenth plague, the death of the first born of Egypt, is the pivotal point of the film.  High drama, resulting in the Hebrew’s release in triumph.  An anticlimactic chase scene, resulting in more humiliation for Yul Brenner…er, Rameses the second, and the people of God have prevailed.  Or have they?

The story continues, of course.  I’ve never managed to watch the movie to it’s happy conclusion, but I have read the book.  En route to the land of the promise, there are disputes and delays – the people cry out at the supposed injustice of being led from slavery into a different kind of suffering.  And in due course (and spectacular fashion) God provides.  Bitter water is made sweet.  Bread in the morning – quails in the evening.  Over and over again, the people cry out and God answers them.  Then at the foot of Sinai – on the verge of revealing the law – God directs Moses to remind the people, one more time, how they have been guided, fed, and wholly redeemed from their bondage.  Listen again – Exodus 19: 3-6:

3Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.

The people need reminding – stiff-necked people that they are, and prone to forget that their time in Egypt was not exactly ‘the good old days’.  And when reminded, of course they pledge faithfulness: “Everything that the LORD has spoken, we will do.” … and they never really get there.

Obedience is a tough promise to keep.  Scriptures are filled with evidence that the people would not (or could not) keep faith with the God who delivered them – though the evidence is equally clear that God continued to keep God’s part of the bargain.  God treasures the people – God loves the people, even in their disobedience – God sticks with this covenant promise… and so the story goes.  Generation after generation; in and out of exile; in and out of favour with God, but never lost to God’s watchfulness, and never – NEVER – does God fall out of love with God’s troublesome, reluctant, imperfectly faithful people.  Thank God.

Deliverance is the continual (and continuing) work of God.  From Moses to Messiah; in the harsh reality of the wilderness and in the imagined safety of empire, God reveals a penchant for grace – a soft spot for those who dare to call on God’s name.  Our call to God is often answered by an irresistible summons – the voice of God saying “I am.  Follow me.  Act.  Speak.  Declare the dawn of a new age.”  Judges and kings; priests and prophets; each and every one translating the presence of God – the promise of God – into the language of their contemporaries. This is what has happened in Jesus.  Jesus reminds his fellow citizens that they are part of the continuing journey towards the promises of God.  The call to obey and keep covenant still echoes down through history, and Jesus directs his chosen friends to put the promise of faith into action.  He sends them to the “lost sheep of Israel” – he directs them to demonstrate the power, glory and love of God; to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons.  A tall order – a near impossible task – given that these were otherwise ordinary citizens, randomly chosen and unremarkable in every way but one; they answered the call – the resolve of their ancient ancestors is shared by the twelve.  They will go on to live out the glorious boast of their ancestors – “Everything that the LORD has spoken, we will do.”  Lives will be changed; the sick made whole, the hungry fed, the dead will be raised.  And everyone will wonder “how can this be?”  The disciples and those who follow can offer only one answer: It is the power of God, made known in the Risen Christ.

Their faith will be tested, of course.  They will falter, and fail often enough to remind us that they have much in common with Moses’ crowd.  Not every enterprise will succeed; not every opportunity to witness will be taken, and in this, we find a common bond.  Our humanity unites us, as much as our shared passion, curiosity and reverence for the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob.  Like the twelve, we have been intrigued by Jesus call.  We are encouraged by Jesus example.  We are empowered by Jesus death and resurrection.  We long to do “all the LORD has spoken”, and in our longing, we come full circle – for we need the lessons on reliance that are relevant in every generation.  Our desire to follow Jesus is admirable, but our desire is never enough.  Without God’s eager devotion – without God’s determined desire to love us and deliver us, our efforts can only fall short.  The “enterprise” that is the church on earth has little to do with us and everything to do with God.

As we contemplate the best way to ‘translate the faith of our ancestors’ to our current language, we would be wise to remember that our efforts, our witness, our proclamation – even our obedience to “all the LORD has spoken” – none of these are sufficient (nor even necessary) to redeem the world – for in love, while we were still sinners, God has seen us safe.  Jesus risen from the grave is our proof.  Christ risen and ascended; the Spirit let loose upon the earth; the word of grace lived out by generations of fallible, faithful people just like us; by these signs and wonders we know that God’s work of deliverance continues, that God provides all that is necessary, and that is Good News indeed.

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