Idols and Animals

Hortus Deliciarum calf09274 largeReflection Series on a semi-continuous reading of Hebrew Scriptures: Exodus 32:1-14 on October 11, 2020 for St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas 

When I was growing up we took some awfully long car trips in the summer from where we lived in California, to Duluth Minnesota, where my parents are from. There were four of us kids piled into the station wagon, so to make this whole operation work, my parents had strict rules. Before we got into the car at every stop, each of us were responsible to use the restroom, get a drink, and make sure we had our books and activities ready nearby. There was no dawdling and begging for snacks because mom had those packed in a bag in the front seat. Most importantly, we were NOT allowed to ask questions like, “when are we going to get there? What time is it? How much longer?” Such whiny questions were not permitted, because we were assured that periodically, we would get an update from the front seat about the time, and how much longer until the next stop.
We behaved for the most part, but we were kids, so once in a while we would get into it because we were getting hot and sweaty, someone touched us or swiped our pillow and we would start bickering. If we did not settle down fast enough, my dad, who always drove, would start to pull-over. I can still hear the sound of the gravel crunching under the tires as the car came to a stop on the shoulder. Dad looked at us from the front seat, and I am sure most of you know what he said, “Do you want to get out and walk?” We would be properly scolded about how he cannot focus on the road with us carrying on, we would all zip our lips, and then Mom, once we got back on the road, would soothe everyone’s frayed nerves by giving us all a lemon drop.

It is too bad Moses and Aaron did not take a page from the Anderson play book before they set out through wilderness. The Israelites have received the Ten Commandments, but they have not internalized that this means that they are responsible for their behavior. They have to take care of themselves at each stop along the way, with no complaining in between. Moses will give them periodic updates from the Lord when has them, and they just have to trust that when there’s new information to be had, they will get it—just like they have had a pillar of cloud and fire to lead them, just like they have had manna and quail to eat, just like they have received stone tablets to define their life together with God and each other. What seems to be the problem?

I suppose the problem is that even with all those physical blessings, it is difficult to serve an invisible God, especially during hardship. Sounds familiar does it not? The challenging of traveling into an unknown future without being able to read a definitive map, without being able to ask how long it will last, when will it end, and where the heck is God anyway feels awfully similar to life in 2020. The year itself mocks us with an image of clarity and perfect vision—2020—when in reality, we have more confusion, conflict, and chaos than many of us ever known in our lifetime.

We share the Israelites frustration—if there were ever a time for the invisible God to be made visible, this is it. If there were ever a time for decisive, consistent leadership, now is the time. Instead, Moses has disappeared up the mountain, communing with God; without their leader, the Israelites descend into chaos, bickering like children in the backseat. Aaron realizes that he has no lemon drops to soothe their nerves or calm their anxiety.

It is hard to serve an invisible God, especially in crisis. They are so human—first they turn to a human idol, Moses, and when he’s not available, they turn to gold, to religion, to their own control and ideas, they turn inward instead of outward, failing to remind each other of what God has already done.

When they cannot make their leader, Moses, their idol, they make their religion their idol instead—needing somewhere to focus their anxiety, their urge for control, their stubborn inability to sit in the back seat of this journey and trust that they will get what they need, and arrive at their destination, according to God’s plan.

Isn’t it interesting that when the Israelites choose an image or idol to create, they do not make a human representation of God; instead—they choose an animal. A golden calf. What a fascinating juxtaposition on the Sunday when we are blessing the animals that bring meaning and love into our own lives. Why an animal? Why a calf? When the Israelites escaped from Egypt, Exodus says they left with their flocks and herds, so as they traveled across the desert, the animals journeyed with them. Imagine the comfort those animals brought them in their travels and in their hardship. They kept them warm on cold desert nights, they provided constant companionship, they connected them with their past, they provided milk and wool, they never talked back, they were a steady presence that stood by them no matter their mood, their childish petulance, their anger, or their struggles. Morning and night, day in and day out, there they were, cows and sheep, walking alongside them, accompanying them in their journey no matter what.
Wouldn’t that be nice if God were like that?

Of course, God IS like that—which God has been showing them over and over. Moses reminds God of this truth, and then Moses reminds the people as well. And with those signs, with those daily reminders, they could remember, and they could take heart. The constant presence of sheep and cattle through this desert remind them, that God is always with them. With daily provision of manna and quail they received God’s blessings even when Moses is absent.

And for us who own dogs, we see their loyalty and remember how loyal God is to us and to God’s promises. When our cat purrs in our lap, regardless of how crappy we have been, that is God’s grace for us. When we behold God’s beautiful creation, this is the invisible God made visible—creation being our first Bible. St. Francis of Assisi taught us to see God in all things, in all creatures—to see all people, animals, including our pets—as sacramental, as visible signs of God’s presence. We see in them God’s presence, not so that we worship them, but so that they point us to the goodness and greatness of our One Creator God whom we worship and trust, even in hard times.
As we continue today on a journey without a map and with questions that do not have answers, we may be tempted to put our trust in many things above God—money or gold, political parties, our job, our family, our freedom, even the reliability of our pets.

Even while these things may be a necessary part of our life, they are not life itself; they are not God. They are all blessings that point us to God—to the Creator who is our constant companion no matter what, to the One who holds the map—and sometimes, even gives us a lemon drop—to the One in whom we trust to bring us, our pets, and all of creation, safely to our destination, to the kingdom of God.

Reflection Questions:

  • Do you have travel memories from childhood? What did you learn from these experiences that have served you well as an adult? What have you changed or adapted?
  • What is difficult for you in serving an “invisible God?”
  • What have been your most concrete experiences of God? Where and how have these taken place?
  • What are the physical signs of God’s blessings and presence that you have seen in your life? Can you call these to mind as a source of strength that you can rely on during challenging times?
  • Everyday we are tempted to put many idols before God (money, possessions, consumption, power, status, ego, political party, or leaders); what are the most challenging idols for you?
  • When have you experienced God’s love and grace through a pet or other animal? Through creation?
  • Are there spiritual and other practices that help you trust God and navigate this unknown journey we are now on? If there are events/practices/worship services that Pr. Linda can offer to help with this, please share your ideas.

Image: Herrad of Landsberg. The Dance of the Golden Calf from the Hortus Deliciarum, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55985 [retrieved October 12, 2020http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hortus_Deliciarum,_Der_Tanz_um_das_goldene_Kalb.JPG.

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A New Identity

MosesStrikestheRockReflection Series on a semi-continuous reading of Hebrew Scriptures: Exodus 17:1-7 on September 27, 2020 for St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

How do you develop trust when all you have known is abuse?
How do you accept kindness when all you have experienced is cruelty?
How do you receive love when all you have known is domination?
How do you live in freedom when all you have known is slavery?

These deeper struggles churn within the hearts of the Israelites as they journey out of Egypt and into the wilderness of the Sinai desert. Their constant complaining has worn out Moses and Aaron, who day by day seek to manage their needs in an arid, hostile climate. God keeps showing up for them, and Moses and Aaron keep leading them, but it is never enough. They eat manna every morning; they dine on quail every evening—God remains true to the promise to provide for them. God even continues to appear in the pillar of cloud and fire to lead them toward Sinai—what more do they need?

Apparently, they need more—a lot more. The Israelites need a new identity because they have not figured out yet who they are when their lives are not structured by enslavement, domination, and abuse. They do not know how to trust God, much less any human leader because they have never trusted anyone before. They cannot rely on any human kindness, because in their experience, it is always self-serving, turning to violence at any moment. They cannot receive love and mercy from God because all they had received from Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods were control and domination. They do not know how to live in freedom because someone has always told them what, when, how, and where to do everything. Manna and quail are here today, but what about tomorrow? We may have food, but we do not have enough water! When is the other shoe going to drop? When is this all going to turn south? At least in Egypt they knew what to expect. That gave them a measure of control. Out in the wilderness, all bets are off. They do not who they are, they do not know what to think, they do not know how to act. So, they revert back to the one behavior that sustained them in Egypt: complaining about how bad things are. The Israelites are expert grumblers.

Out in the wilderness, away from Egypt, the Israelites are living in freedom, but they have an enslaved identity. This is why it can take years for women to leave violent men, for survivors of childhood abuse to seek help, for victims of any trauma to achieve healing, or even why people who have lost large amounts of weight often gain it back again—because without changing our identity and how we think about ourselves, we live with old thought patterns, even in new circumstances. We live in freedom but with an enslaved identity. It’s all about what happens in the 6” between our ears.

Whereas Israel’s survival in Egypt relied on distrust and suspicion; their survival in the wilderness demands trust in and reliance upon God—which is for them, a complete change in identity. In Israel’s case, it is the work of generations because what we do not transform, we transmit. We pass onto our children and to others our unresolved pain and trauma. It is painful work to unlearn the habits of domination and victimhood, the thought patterns of subjugation and powerlessness, and to replace them with habits of trust in God’s presence and provision, transforming hearts from skepticism to optimism and from suspicion to gratitude. God knows that such a change in identity requires time, patience, consistency, and steadfast love.

It can be hard to let go of a former identity, even a negative one, when we do not know who we are without it. As a pastor, I end up in a lot of groups where we are asked to introduce ourselves and share—it happens at conferences, continuing education events, Synod workshops and so on. It took about 5 years before I noticed that I stopped including “breast cancer survivor” as part of my introduction. “Breast cancer survivor” was a hard identity to let go because I did not want to stop being diligent about my health, nor did I want to lose the spiritual lessons I learned. But I also did not want people to expect too much of me, so I had adopted a victim-mentality, and I finally had to let go. I realized I had to stop clinging to cancer as part of my identity, as an excuse for limitation. Now, cancer is something that happened to me that is part of my story, but it does not define who I am—and God gave me patient, steadfast love and a good trauma therapist, until I got there.

God offers this patient steadfast love to Israel in the wilderness in the midst of their Massah which means “testing” and Meribah, which means “grumbling.”
First God goes ahead of Moses—which has been true every step of the way. God has been going ahead of them, but here, God again reminds Moses and the people that God is with them and goes before them. God instructs Moses to bring the elders with him to the rock at Horeb, so every tribe has a storyteller to convey the miracle and constancy of God’s presence and response. God instructs Moses to take his shepherd’s staff which God turned into a divine instrument when Moses was first called, proving God was with him in the Exodus. Now in the desert, God uses the staff to cause life-giving water to flow from a rock—a sacrament of God’s presence attached to an earthly gift that nourishes the Israelites in body and soul. Their thirst is quenched, and their identity begins to be reshaped by this God who transforms their ways of thinking by washing them through with streams in the desert.

God loves them, even while stuck in their complaints and grumbling, transforming them with visible signs of a God whose mercy and love they are learning trust. In the water that freely flowed from the rock they begin to learn that their identity is rooted in God! In the wilderness, their spiritual work is moving mentally from an enslaved people to a trusting nation, “Israel”—a people who has wrestled with God and prevailed—always and ultimately receiving their blessing, like water from a rock.
So, too, our identity is rooted in God—we are washed through and through in the sacrament of water that comes with God’s promise of life, forgiveness, and hope. Our identity is the same from the moment the water first splashed upon us in Baptism: “child of God, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” Child of God. That is our identity. Nothing more, nothing less. Nothing else is needed.

We have all experienced some form of trauma, illness, or loss—and some of us, all three. But they do not need to have the final word over us. With the Israelites, our patient, steadfast and loving God invites us into healing, into letting go of old ways of thinking, anger, or being a victim, and washes us through and through with a love that says, “You are precious to me, I love you, and you are mine.” God quenches our thirst, body and soul, giving us love and a holy claim on our lives for eternity. Hearing these words is especially important now when past experiences of trauma may be triggered during this pandemic. I invite each of you to reach out to me for support—that’s one big advantage of having a pastor with some of my experiences—I have been in trauma therapy, I have had PTSD, I understand what it’s like. Dan and I both have mental illness and addiction in our family trees, and after nearly 60 years of ministry between us, you will not surprise me.

Moses was surrounded by elders and community as the water flowed from the rock and so are you—you are surrounded by love—the love of God, the love of your pastor, the love of this community which desires your best and highest good, and the love of the saints who have gone before us and built this church so you can have Christian community in this time and place. We are the storytellers for each other, always standing at the miracle of grace in Jesus Christ, reminding one another of Who and Whose we are. We are God’s church, baptized into one people for life together, and there is no pandemic or trauma, no election or point in history that can change what Christ has done for you, and what God is doing to bring life and salvation to all of us.

You are a child of God—live in this freedom—for this is your true identity.

Reflection Questions and Resources

Deeper struggles churn within the hearts of the Israelites as they journey out of Egypt and into the wilderness of the Sinai desert.

• Are there experiences from your past that continue to affect your ability to trust, receive love, kindness, and forgiveness?

The Israelites are expert grumblers.

• Last week we learned the importance of bringing our complaints to God. At what point does your healthy acknowledgement of hardship and grief turn into unhealthy grumbling?
• When do you need to turn your complaining into a willingness to change what you think and how you act?

It’s all about what happens in the 6” between our ears.

• In what area do you have an “enslaved identity” or need to let go of old thought patterns and identity that no longer serve you or apply to your life today?

Patterns of survival that help us get through a traumatic childhood, event, or timeframe, serve us well in crisis, but become problematic as a life pattern (e.g., control, distancing, suspicion, hyper-responsibility, anger, aggression, sarcasm, addiction, chaos). We engage in these to avoid feeling pain rather than working through it and releasing its power to determine our behavior.

• Can you identify behavior and thought patterns honed during a crisis that no longer help you experience connection to others, relationship with God, meaning, or joy?
• Psychologist affirm that what we do not transform we transmit—we pass on to others our own unresolved pain (see the list of some of our survival traits above).
• Can you identify pain from your parents’ experiences that still affects you? Can see you see how your traumatic experience and survival behaviors affect your children and/or other relationships? Read these related articles: Related Articles: ​How Childhood Trauma Can Affect Your Long-Term Health; Healing the Whole Family. This is why it takes 40 years for the Israelites in the wilderness to be reformed into a trusting relationship with God.

God knows that such a change in identity requires time, patience, consistency, and steadfast love—the law points out our sin, but only love and grace transform the heart, mind, and soul.

• What are visible ways God shows love to you today?
• Can you think of ways that God is present in daily life that you have not thought of before? It does not always have to be a big miracle, but small moments—any time you experience love, peace, or calm—a good nap, a bird singing, a hug, daily gifts of shelter, family, a true friend, tasty food, unconditional love from someone, even our pet, and many more.
• If you would like to explore recovery from a past or current trauma, read about EMDR therapy which helps release traumatic memory stored in the brain. https://www.emdria.org/about-emdr-therapy/. I am happy to share my experience of how it works, and a referral to a counselor skilled in trauma recovery. I am your #1 advocate for emotional, psychological and whole-soul healing!

Image: Moses Strikes the Rock, Chabad.org

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From Complaint to Trust

Full title: The Israelites gathering MannaArtist: Ercole de' RobertiDate made: probably 1490sSource: http://www.nationalgalleryimages.co.uk/Contact: picture.library@nationalgallery.co.ukCopyright © The National Gallery, LondonReflection Series on a semi-continuous reading of Hebrew Scriptures: Exodus 16:2-15 on September 20, 2020 for St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

Their life in the wilderness must have really fallen apart for the Israelites to long for slavery back in Egypt. Somehow, they had forgotten the terror, the back-breaking work, the domination, and the chains of slavery. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of cloud by night that guided them out of Egypt also faded into the recesses of their mind. They lost the image of the mighty waters of the Red Sea blown to the sides as marched across in a parade to freedom on dry land. Had they forgotten too, what God had done for them?

A month had already passed since God liberated them from Egypt. The Israelites were in this awkward, in-between time that bridged departure and destination. They were ready to arrive somewhere, anywhere, and establish a life and regular routines. But instead, they were in this middle passage of uncertainty, with no end date in site—it is enough to try anyone’s patience, as we have all learned ourselves these last six months. It is difficult to remember what God has done in the past, when right now feels pretty awful, and we do not know when this awful is going to end.

The wilderness environment the Israelites found themselves was making matters worse—they went from the Nile basin—the breadbasket of the middle east with plenty of water and grain, to the harsh arid heat of the desert. It was difficult to find food, even harder to procure water—how were they to keep everyone fed in a place like this? It was not safe—they could not go anywhere and feel safe—safe from the elements, safe from unseen dangers of the wild, safe from starvation and dying of thirst.
The passage of time and uncertainty about their future made the Israelites re-think their past. They looked back through rose-colored glasses, revising their history and re-writing their memories: slavery started to feel like security, oppression began to look like 3 hots and a cot, and chains became a safety fence that kept the wilderness at bay.

• The passage of time, the uncertainty of our future, and the lack of safety in our current environment are dynamics that are remarkably similar to the Israelites in the wilderness. Do you find it surprising that Scripture based in oral stories from the Bronze Age still speak to our experience today?
• Do you tend to think nostalgically about life before the pandemic? Is it easier to gloss over the difficulties you had then given current circumstances?
• It might be therapeutic to write out your “COVID complaints” as a lament to God and a release of stress.

It only took a month of hardship for life to fall apart for them. Thirty days and they are mess. Do you ever wonder why God commanded us to stop and worship once a week? Well here is why—amnesia about God’s saving acts, and revisionist history in four short weeks of hardship. What had God done for them lately? They could not remember. But they did remember there was food in Egypt. So they complained and fussed at Moses and Aaron about how much better it would have been to live in slavery in Egypt, than to die of starvation in the wilderness. What kind of plan was this? Is there a plan? What is the plan? Where is God? What is this God going to do now that we are out here?

Don’t you find it a bit unsettling to focus this much on complaining? Where is their stiff upper lip? Where is their faith? Trust and complaint can feel mutually exclusive. Can we bitterly complain to God and trust God at the same time? That does not feel right. We would expect that after all God had done for them, that God was probably thinking about sending them back to Egypt and starting over with a whole new group of people. I know I would!

• What helps you sustain faith in hard times? Are there “God-moments” in your life that your return to remind yourself of God’s faithfulness?
• Do you feel uncomfortable with complaint? That someone always has it worse? That you should just toughen up? Where does this come from and what would it take to let some of this go?

But that is not what God does. Instead of rejecting this people or firing back with a litany of God’s complaints about these ingrates, God has two responses to the complaints of the Israelites: First, God hears their complaints—four times our passage tells us that God hears their complaints: “he has heard your complaining against the LORD, “LORD has heard the complaining that you utter against him,” “he has heard your complaining,” “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites.” Alright already! I think God has heard their complaining.

God’s response of hearing their complaints shows the Israelites that bellyaching to God is actually an act of faith because to complain to God is to trust that God is listening, that God cares enough to pay attention. This was no “One and Done” God—one big miracle to get you out of Egypt and then you’re on your own—no, this is a persistent God, a patient God, a long-haul God who is always there, always listening, always present, always in relationship.

Second, after hearing their desperate pleas, God responds to their complaints by providing for their needs—manna in the morning and quails in the evening. This liberating and complaint-hearing God is also a gift-giving and life-sustaining God. In the wilderness, in this time for the Israelites between departure and destination, in this time of COVID between onset and vaccination—it is the most challenging time to keep trusting God to show up. So, God says, “I will give you enough bread for today, and enough quail for tonight, and a double portion to feed you on the Sabbath. You will have to trust that I will provide again tomorrow.” Does not Jesus, in the Lord’s Prayer, teach us to pray, “give us this day our daily bread”?

Every morning the Israelites wake up with daily bread on the ground and every evening when quails appear, they build a deeper and deeper trust in the provision and reliability of God. The rose-colored glasses come off, and they remember what God did for them yesterday, so they can trust that today, knowing with complete certainty that God will show up again. This liberating, complaint-hearing, gift-giving, life-sustaining God seeks an intimate, loving relationship with faithful people who will deepen trust daily.

• Are you surprised by a God who not only listens to complaints but responds to them? Does this encourage you to let God know your frustrations, and laments?
• What makes it difficult for you to trust God for what you need daily?

Being a complainer may not make you a great dinner companion if you do it every night. It may not win friends and influence people. But the Israelites’ experience of wilderness whining reminds us of the great Scriptural tradition of holy lament and complaint. Complaint can be and often is an essential, honest, and even necessary part of our conversation with God. For where would we be without grief and complaint, knowing that when we are at our wit’s end, we can cry out to God and let God know of our misery, trusting that God hears us and responds to us with the daily bread we need?

Job cries out, “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” Psalm 55 complains, “My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.” Psalm 42 laments, “My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?” And Jesus himself cries from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For certainly the God who put on the limits of human skin, the finitude of this earthly life, and who hung on a cross, defeated, and alone empathizes with our pain, our frustrations, and sorrows.

Complaint is not the opposite of faith—rather, it is an act of deep faith—trusting that God will hear our prayers and give us this day our daily bread.

Image: Roberti, Ercole de', -1496. Israelites Gathering Manna, from Art in the Christian Traditionhttp://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55968

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God’s Judgment of Oppression and Call to Justice

CrossingtheRedSeaReflection Series on a semi-continuous reading of Hebrew Scriptures: Exodus 14:19-31 on September 13, 2020 for St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas 

This famous story of the Exodus is not only an exciting account of the Israelite’s march toward liberation, but it is also a gruesome story of judgment against an oppressor. Not only do we hear about the pillar of cloud and fire that guided the Israelites to freedom, we also hear how Yahweh confused the Egyptians and caused them to foolishly plunge into the sea. We see their panic as their chariots become stuck in the mire. We watch in horror as the waters collapse on the soldiers. We witness the Egyptian dead washing up on the seashore. Why so much gory detail in a story about the victory of God’s people? We could have gotten the point of liberation without so many horrible details. I had hard time reading it aloud.

But this story, as it stands, forces us to really pay attention to what happens to oppressors like the Pharaoh and his army—to ask questions, like, “Who really wins in an oppressive system or government, when one group dominates and rules another? Who really benefits when violence is the solution, making death inevitable?” The distance of centuries may make it easy to judge Pharaoh for being so hard-hearted, so violent, so malevolent toward a whole race of people.

With the distance of time and culture, we may conclude that this is what happens to oppressors when they oppose God’s will. And we would not be wrong about that. But we in the United States in this time, should not feel too satisfied with that conclusion, for this story serves as a cautionary tale for all nations who have amassed the kind of power that our country has.

While the US has championed freedom and liberation throughout its history, we also have a disturbing record of domination and even oppression.

While we would like to focus only on the positive parts of our nation’s story, we cannot close our eyes and plug our ears to the domination and violence of our story. After three decades of expansion, our detention system now captures and holds as many as 400,000 immigrants each year, even separating children from their parents and placing them in caged holding cells.

While our national creed promises “liberty and justice for all,” our nation continues to systematically oppress others – the poor, neighbors with black and brown skin. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world—37% greater than Cuba, 69% higher than Russia—and not because crime has increased. Crime has actually gone down since the 1990’s, but the arrest rate for non-violent drug crimes has gone up and the sentences have gotten longer, targeting those at the margins. Low-income and homeless people cannot pay bail. Black men have been arrested up to 270% more often than white men for marijuana possession and are twice as likely to get a longer sentence. Simply put, this is segregation by incarceration [See this article by the American Action Forum which calls itself "a center-right (italics mine) policy institutute providing actionable research and analysis to solve America's most pressing challenges"].

Our story today forces us to reckon with the bodies of the Egyptians dead on the shore, foiled by chariot wheels stuck in the mud, killed by the weight and burden of their superior military might, because we need to be reminded of the price of Pharaoh’s terror and oppression. Our story causes us to look at the casualties of our own nation’s power and policies – power and policies that target immigrants, the homeless, the poor, people of color, or the marginalized whose lives are not valued or on par with others.

If we do not hear in this story, God’s judgment on domination and oppression, then we are not dealing with the details of the story and thus, we are missing the point. Scripture tells us over and over what the Lord requires of us – that we “do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). Throughout scripture, God has a special care and place for the poor, the oppressed, the foreigner, and the marginalized. While we can debate the best policies, or candidates, and ways to achieve equity and justice, we must act. In several weeks, we are all called to vote our conscience, guided by our God who wants peace and freedom, not only for our country, but for every nation, and for all people. Regardless of whom we elect, we will have the work of God’s justice to do.

While all oppression results in bloodshed and death, our story from Exodus is, in the end, a story about new life and liberation. God re-establishes order over chaos just as God did in the creation story from Genesis. In the beginning, the Spirit hovered over the deep, then moved as a mighty wind, separating the waters and creating dry land. In this Exodus, God ends the chaos of enslavement and empire with a new creation—so again, the Spirit blows the waters apart to reveal dry land and a safe passage for the Israelites into freedom and a new life.

Our calling as the church is to constantly choose this new life over death, freedom over slavery, liberation over oppression. For we serve a God of new life and liberation in Jesus Christ—whose Spirit blows over each of us anew in Baptism to claim us for freedom and for life. God calls us daily to leave systems of oppression and fear behind, and be made new to serve him with love and justice—

• we write letters to politicians who can make a difference in the lives of our marginalized citizens,
• we cook breakfast and feed our hungry neighbors,
• we listen to the experiences of immigrants who are seeking freedom and a better life and advocate for them with our votes, our voices, and our feet.

Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us that “the moral arch of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We rejoice that on the journey of freedom and justice, our God of creation and liberation supplies our every need—God gives us water from a rock, manna from heaven, a cloud of witnesses to accompany us, and the body of and blood of Christ to nourish us, heart and soul. And God makes a way where there is no way – because God will not rest until we all arrive in the Promised Land as one people together.

Reflection Questions:

• Where else do you see places of great injustice in our country today? Where do you see our country using its power for great good?
• Is it difficult to separate God’s desire for justice for all people of the earth, and our own national pride and self-interest? What do we do as Christians when these come into conflict?
• Have you ever connected the parting of the Red Sea with the creation story—as an act of re-creation of God’s people? Of establishing a new order in the face of the chaos of oppression? If God were to take such a dramatic action today, where would it be and what would it look like?

• What do you think are the most pressing needs in Richardson, northern Texas, and in the country that the church needs to be involved in and advocating for?
• What issues affect your neighborhood, those you love, or people you know?
• How has living in a global pandemic affected your experience and your perception of community needs, fairness, and how people exercise power (economic, governmental, social)?
• What is it you need from your church to be engaged more actively in community issues of justice, fairness, or community care?

Image: Art by Raanan, https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.yoramraanan.com/new-laser-prints/crossing-the-red-sea&source=gmail&ust=1601572043056000&usg=AFQjCNEm4tQ4K5LO0haG4-K2dWXE5bZoZw">https://www.yoramraanan.com/new-laser-prints/crossing-the-red-sea

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linda anderson little 2020Linda Anderson-Little

Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.

 

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