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“Sometime a Light Surprises”

Rev. Katherine Todd
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
John 20:1-18

 

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you — unless you have come to believe in vain.

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them — though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Nightmare of all nightmares, here was the singular man who had loved them like none other.  Here was the singular man who had opened hearts, minds, and souls.  Here was the singular man who had healed the sick and brought the dead back to life.

This man was re-making the world as it SHOULD be.  This man was calling each person to be the most whole person they COULD be.  This man showed them what LOVE looked like.  He showed them what faith felt like.

Everything that meant anything, he had touched in healing, in mercy, in grace, in truth, in forgiveness.  Everywhere he had gone, he bestowed blessing.  People ate because of him.  People drew near to God because of him.  People were restored to community and family because of him.  People lived because of him.

 

This man was nothing but Love.  This man was nothing, if not Truth.  This man had shown them the Way. 

 

And they were utterly heartbroken. 

 

 

The one they loved…
The singular one who’d loved them so well!…
The One who say both who they really were and who they could be…
THIS ONE the institutional leaders had set out to destroy. 

They plotted.
They planned.
They looked for opportunity,
justification,
excuse,
smoke-screen,
in order to take him down.

They could no longer bear the insults,
being called out,
being exposed for the sinfulness of their hearts,
having their rules and teachings challenged,
all the changes he incited,
having the lowliest among them exalted,
being passed over in the shadow of this exalted prophet…

But of course these lay below the surface.  Then there were the party lines:
He blasphemes God!
He presumes to be God’s own son!

 

It just wouldn’t do.
And so they hatched a plan.
The leadership happened upon a turncoat – Judas –
and they seized their opportunity
for insider information.

They carefully avoided the crowds.
Heck, they avoided the sun!
They came – like a thief in the night –
for this servant who had always come before them in the light.
They came – armed to the teeth –
for this servant who they knew possessed no weapons.

They came to silence him. 

 

And so it was that Jesus was betrayed by one he loved,
and handed over to those who wished him harm.
And all his disciples – named and unnamed, men and women all – were left in the confusion and darkness of what had transpired.  They were left powerless, to a system much more powerful than them.  They were left in mourning for the truest Love they had ever known.

And it was a living nightmare – ever worse, day by day. 

 

Perhaps some hoped for justice to win out in the end.

Perhaps some hoped for truth to come to light.

Perhaps some hoped Jesus would set himself free and disappear from the crowds, as he’d done amidst that angry mob who lost their illegal pig industry due to this prophet setting a tortured, demon-possessed man free.

Perhaps they imagined him speaking in power over the elements of nature – commanding an earthquake or storm – and taking over the establishment, taking over the government.

 

But everyday turned darker and darker
until it was clear
that nothing would divert the establishment
from its will. 
No.

 

He must cease to be.
…to exist.
…to breathe. 

 

He is handled most haphazardly – handed over to the government on accusation of treason.  His innocence is known, and yet, the will of the religious leadership presses the government powers.  And so in true government fashion for the day – a wager is put forth, a flip of the coin; the fickle will of the crowds will decide if Jesus lives or dies.

And the religious leadership is so very determined that they advise their own constituents to vote to release a murderer, rather than release the prophet.

Wow.

What kind of rationalization do you think that took?

…They really had to convince themselves of Jesus’ utter harmfulness in order to justify their backing the prisoner known for murder. 

 

The trial was never really a trial.  If it had been, it would have been carried out in the light….rather than in the night.  There was no decision to be made.  It had already been decided.  These leaders were merely deciding their point of attack – and they decide to co-opt government forces to do their murderous work for them.

THEN they’d have plenty of scapegoats

The government condemned Jesus! 

The crowds condemned Jesus! 

It wasn’t us!

 

And all the while, his family, friends, and disciples look on as the horror unfolds into a full-blown public crucifixion – designed for it’s pain, reputed for it’s notion of curse.

And they stand, looking on, watching his pain, hearing his words, seeing his flesh torn and ripped open, watching him struggle at last to take even. a. final. breath.

 

Jesus’ disciples are in shock.  They are in horror.
Perhaps they go to sleep hoping they’ll wake up to find it was only a dream.
Perhaps Jesus will command himself off of that cruel instrument of torture.
But alas, he endures.  He stays.

And they cannot avoid their pain, their grief, their fear…their living nightmare. 

 

And so on this morning of Jesus’ resurrection, his disciples are taken fully off-guard.  His disappearance from the tomb just feels more likely to be one more effort by the elite, to silence his memory.  And Mary Magdaline weeps.  She weeps and weeps outside that empty tomb.

 

She weeps until her eyes are puffy.

She weeps until her nose is stuffy.

She weeps she can hardly see, hardly speak, hardly move.  The others have left her behind.

And so it is

that when Jesus himself

comes to her in risen glory,

she thinks him the gardener.

…They are, after all, in a garden, a cemetery.  Who else might it be?!

 

NOTHING Mary has experienced in this life so far has prepared her to imagine this possibility.
Not even Jesus’ words could ready her to recognize him when he returns!
This is far out!

 

And, overcome by grief,
foggy with tears,
assuming things to be business as usual,
she does not recognize the answer to her prayers,
the One for whom she seeks,
standing
right
in front of her.

Halleluia! 

 

So I am here to say that whatever your grief

  • when it feels like business as usual, the same folks going down, the same folks climbing the ladder…
  • when it’s more of the same song and dance…
  • when justice is denied…
  • when truth is silenced…
  • when it seems the whole system is out to get you…

Do not
count out
God. 

We can be blinded by our grief.
We can be blinded by rage at injustice.
We can be blinded by our own mind – expecting only what we can anticipate and control.

But our God breaks our boxes.
Our God shatters our expectations.
Our God could not be held in a stone tomb! 

 

So even as we pray, and work, and yearn for God’s Kingdom,
may we learn to expect God’s inbreaking.

God is flipping the script.
God is turning the narrative on its head.

And if we are not encountering this table-flipping, tomb-escaping, bread breaking God,
then perhaps it is not God we worship after all. 

 

 

 

 

 

“UNITY with Those People”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 62:5-12
Jonah 3:1-5, 10

 

Psalm 62:5-12

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us

Those of low estate are but a breath,
those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no confidence in extortion,
and set no vain hopes on robbery;
if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all
according to their work.

 

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

 

As our nation has been reeling in the events of this presidential transition of power, our scripture from Jonah speaks more poignantly than ever.

 

Who are THOSE PEOPLE to you?

Who are the ones you prefer avoid, as Jonah preferred avoid Ninevah?

Who are those you struggle to understand?

…to respect?

 

Native American wisdom teaches us that all creation is family.  We are all related.  We are one family.
Jesus Christ earnestly prayed, just before his death, that we might be one as Christ is one with the Father.  THIS is how folks will know we are Christ’s disciples:

UNITY
Unity. 

 

Are we, as a nation, unified?

Do we claim and love one another,

As Christ has claimed and loved us…while instructing us to sin no more?

We seem sooner bent on surgically removing one another from among the living; removing folks from power; removing folks the body of Christ; removing others from this our own family of relations, kin as we are alike made by the hands of God…

Do we not? 

 

And when I say “we” I do not refer to you, individually.  I refer to us all, collectively.
For as individual as we want to believe we are, we are truly ALL CONNECTED, as so we are made to be.  “No man is an island” as John Donne famously wrote.  In fact, if we were each to be islands of autonomy, there’d be no story of Adam needing Eve, Moses wouldn’t have needed the help of Aaron, and you could chuck most of the New Testament Epistles – which spend a great deal of time addressing our interpersonal relationships.

It is this well-meaning but misguided individualism that has kept us so far from truth, time after time.

 

In self-defense, time after time, we claim not be to racists.
In self-defense, time after time, we claim not to be coercive or partial.
And yet, this defensive posture has blinded us all.  Has it not?
For in our eagerness to justify and excuse ourselves, we fail to see the larger arc of history, of the systems set up to protect some and not others, of the economic incentives and opportunities we have benefited from while others have been denied, simply because of the color of their skin…

And this is our house.  It matters not who nailed the board or shuttered the windows.  We live in this house, our nation.  It’s history is our reality.  We are responsible.

If we view confession as merely an individual, spiritual sport, we miss far too much.  We miss the big picture.  We miss the opportunity to pray with and for one another and the whole.  The WHOLE.  We confess together because we affect one another.  We confess together because we need one another.  We confess together because we have sinned together.  And our sins can be anything from action to inaction, from speaking to remaining silent.  We affect one another.  We struggle with these things collectively.  And so we confess together.

 

And this business of unity is not the responsibility of THOSE PEOPLE.
It is not merely the responsibility of our elected leaders.
It is not torn down only by those on the edges, in the extremes.
WE are responsible for unity.
ALL of us.

For as I have learned from our native brother, Edgar Villanueva, a healing circle is not complete until everyone is present. 

 

Have you heard that in some native tribes, when a member does something bad, they are brought into the circle, and for two days strait, everyone in the village  aloud every speaks good things about that person.  Two whole days.  Wow.

They were reminding that one who they are,
…beyond
what they’d done.

Edgar writes of a native mentor who told him the story of packing up to leave a community center for the night, when the elder at a table of youth said, “The problem was not the white man coming to America.”

The mentor was struck by this and quickly set down her things.  She had to.  This elder had been alive through so much atrocity.  How could HE say the problem wasn’t the white man coming to America?  Then the elder went on to say, “the problem was, they forgot their lessons.”

They forgot their lessons.

Not demonizing those who had demonized him.
Not returning terror for terror.
Not returning pain for violence.

This elder remembered that we are all one family,
We are all related. 

And he called attention to action, rather than person.
It wasn’t that the white men shouldn’t have come or shouldn’t exist.
It was WHAT THEY DID that mattered.
And what they did betrayed that they did not remember that we are all one family,
All kin,
All made by the hands of one God.

 

We can learn from these, our black and brown brothers and sisters.  They have endured things that so many of us of lighter skin have been sheltered from.

This elder was living the unity Christ prayed for his disciples.  

 Will we? 

 

Will we turn toward THOSE PEOPLE – as Jonah turned toward the people of Ninevah – speaking truth in love?
Will we go where we do not wish to go – as Christ went faithfully to the cross, after asking God that that cup might pass from him?

I am not proposing that we go and intentionally make martyrs of ourselves.
Rather, I am proposing, that we listen for God, as Samuel listened when God spoke to him in the early morning of his temple rest.

And when we hear God’s still small voice, instructing us where to go,
May we respond, not as Jonah did the first time – fleeing as fast as loose as we can in the other direction till he found himself in the belly of a whale with no other options but…well, God –
But rather as Jonah did the second time – obeying the Word of the Lord,
And watching as God redeems even those we have formerly despised. 

 

No one is too far from God’s reach.
And so it is that no one should be too far from ours.
For we are Christ’s body on earth,
Christ’s hands for serving,
Christ’s heart for loving,
Christ’s mind for teaching,
Christ’s arms for embracing.

 

 

 

PRAYERS

 

Leslie Weatherhead, England (1883-1975)

O suffering Christ, lay your hand in healing power upon those who feel they can bear no more, until their hearts are hushed and quieted, knowing that round about them and underneath them are the Everlasting Arms.

Amen.

 

Miriam Therese Winter

Life, spilling over the hills of our grief and filling the wells in our souls and our senses, come, lift us up into lighthearted laughter, so all the weight of our awareness does not overwhelm us.  Life of Our World, be life – in and through us, now and forever.

Amen

 

Kathleen Fischer

May you face life without illusion, but with gratitude.
Though you have known tragedy, may you nonetheless cherish laughter.
May you have an ever clearer sense of what is important and what is not.
May your encounters with evil heighten your appreciation of what is good.
May you learn to meet death in a way that leads you to celebrate life.

“Open, Empty, Humble”

Katherine Todd
John 9:24-41
Luke 1:26-38

John 9:24-41

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

 

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

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For nothing will be impossible with God.

The angel Gabriel comes to Mary, and tells her crazy, wonderful, wild, and impossible things.  Few encounters are so entirely world-altering as this news would be to Mary’s entire life.  She will give birth to a child, who will be great and will reign on the throne of David…forever.

None of this message could be true.

Could it?

She, a virgin, pregnant?  Giving birth?
The child, with God – quite literally – as his father??
This child a King?
…to reign on the throne of Israel?
…forever??

Mary is being asked to believe in impossible things.
Mary is being asked to trust, beyond the boundaries of her mind and all her life experience.

 

What we view as possible is changing all the time.

I remember thinking as a child that the next invention would be a phone where you can see people as you speak.  And voila!  We have that and soooo much more!

Had you told the apostle Paul that you could communicate with peoples on the other side of the world, in minutes, or that you could go there in a day, he would have thought you mad.  It was impossible.

Flying was impossible…until it wasn’t.
Talking across miles was impossible…until it wasn’t.
Broadcasting your video to the world was impossible…until it wasn’t.
Making a video was impossible……..until it wasn’t.

Who are WE to say what IS and ISN’T possible?!?

 

All we have are the boundaries of our own experience, the limits of our understanding, the borders of our imagination and vision.  Thus, every time we pass judgement, we are incorrect.  We simply cannot perceive all that is or can be.

So when GOD says something, we do well to listen. 
When GOD guides our steps, we do well to follow.
When God makes a promise,
speaks a word,
makes a move,
you can believe it.  You can count on it.  You can build your house on it; it is solid.

 

The difficulty then is in the hearing.  Do we believe God still speaks at all?  If so, do we believe we have the capacity to hear God?  And if we hear God, who might rightly interpret what we hear?

So many questions – all understandable, all legit.

And yet Mary, with the faith of a child, accepts this word of Gabriel as from God. 
Mary, with the faith of a child, believes what she cannot see or understand.
Mary, with the faith of a child, opens herself – her mind, her heart, her body, and her entire life – to the will of God.

 

Can you imagine?

Quite often it is precisely because we’re so grown up that we cannot believe.
Most often, we grow to trust our own experiences more.
We learn things and therefore think we see and understand.
And what does scripture say about those who think they can see?  That they in fact are blind.  But about those who know they are blind, they can see!

Whatever our training and education,
Whatever our degrees and certifications,
Whatever our history and experience,
Whatever our vision and foresight,
WE cannot grasp the Truth.  We cannot capture the Way.  We cannot contain Life.

We
do not have
the capacity
to
behold
God. 

 

Children know this.
They are open.
They are curious.
They are humble.

Mary knew this
as she suspended her own understanding and imagination and experience
in order to make room for GOD. 

And so it is that Mary makes room for Christ. 

 

It isn’t about her decorating a baby room, buying baby insurance, diapers, or formula.
She makes room for Christ
by humbling herself.

In humbling herself, Mary makes room for the possibility of Christ. 

 

It can be tempting to compare ourselves to one another and then think better of ourselves when we “come out on top.”  It can be easy to look at the evening news and think, “I’m glad I’m not a person like THAT.”  We are always better at something, relative to someone else.

And this can woo us into an inflated sense of ego.

We might look around us in church and think, “I come more often than so & so” or “If only so & so would do things my way” or “wow, look at that sin!”  But in this case too, we are seduced into thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought.

Any measurements we take of ourselves should be relative to God.
Do we know what God knows?
Have we experienced what God has experienced?
Who among us has made what God has made?
Who among us sees what God can see?

And if we come out lacking, we have every reason to humble ourselves, to lift the veils of our egos, and make ourselves open like an empty glass.

Are we empty, like a dry and ready sponge, to make room for Christ?
Are we open, like a covid-time social calendar, to make room for Christ?
Are we ready, like well-aged wine, having soaked ourselves in the yeast that is Christ?

Do we accept the twists and turns, as the ocean accepts all rivers?
Do we hunger, like a baby bird waiting for its mother?
Do we trust, like a child – gleefully squealing as his father throws him high into the air, begging him to do it “Again!”

 

May we be as Mary – open, accepting, obedient, humble –
for this is how we ready ourselves.
In acknowledging that we cannot see,
God gives us eyes to see,
…eyes
to BEhold
and BEheld
by Jesus Christ, Emmanuel!

 

In these words of Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) let us quiet our hearts and minds, praying together.

I keep projecting my present condition onto the future.  If I feel dark, the future looks dark; if I feel bright, the future looks bright.  But who am I to know what life will be like for me tomorrow, next week, next year, or ten years from now?  Even more, who am I to know who you will be for me in the year ahead?  O Lord, I will not bind you with my own limited and limiting ideas and feelings.  You can do so many things with me, things that might seem totally impossible to me.  I want at least to remain open to the free movement of your Spirit in my life. …O Lord, let me remain free to let you come whenever and however you desire.  Amen.

 

 

PRAYERS                                                         [Hildegard of Bingen, Germany (1098-1179)]

Holy Spirit – giving life to all life, moving all creatures, root of all things, washing them clean, wiping out their mistakes, healing their wounds – you are our true life:  luminous, wonderful, awaking the heart from its ancient sleep.

[George Appleton, England (1902-1993)]

Give me a candle of the Spirit, O God, as I go down into the deeps of my being.  Show me the hidden things, the creatures of my dreams, the storehouse of forgotten memories and hurts.  Take me down to the spring of life and tell me my nature and my name.  Give me freedom to grow, so that I may become that self, the seed of which you planted in me at my making.  Out of the deeps I cry to you, O God.

 

“The Oppressed Shall Go Free”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Exodus 12:1-14
Romans 13:8-14

 

Exodus 12:1-14

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

 

Romans 13:8-14

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.


 

We have been following this story of Joseph – how he was sold by his brothers as a slave, how he was falsely accused and thrown into prison for years and years, and how he finally got out because of the way he used his gifts of interpreting dreams and because he believed God’s Word spoken through dreams.

Joseph was placed as something of a Father to Pharaoh of Egypt, and when Joseph is reunited with his family, he entreats them all to come to Egypt – to survive the long years of famine with him there.

And that is where they have remained….until the days when the new Pharaoh does not know them and feels their growing numbers and prosperity to be a threat.  And this is when we hear of baby Moses narrowly escaping infanticide – rescued from a basket among the reeds, along the Nile river.

Then we heard of Moses who – having fled Egypt after lashing out and killing an Egyptian, who had been beating an Israelite, and marrying and setting up home in the dessert – sees a bush burning in the wilderness and hears the voice of God calling him beyond his every excuse, to be a part of God’s liberation of his people from Egypt.

What a journey!!!

 

 

And here we find the Israelites on the eve of their great liberation – having endured all the plagues sent upon the land of Egypt, and bracing for the worst one yet, the death of all the eldest Egyptian boys in the land.

We have reached this point in which the heart of the Pharaoh is so hardened that nothing less than the death of his own eldest son, will cause him to stop murdering and enslaving the children of Israel.

What a terrible place to be.

 

Isn’t this how every war begins? …When the cost of doing nothing exceeds the cost of doing something?

 

And so this most terrible plague of all, the death of the first born males of Egypt – the pride joy, the economic back-bone, the seat of power – these young ones are struck down…

And it is terrible.

 

 

And here on the eve of this most terrible plague of all, God is instructing the people to be prepared.  …to be prepared because their liberation – long out-of-reach, will come (and go) swiftly

…for God knows that Pharaoh’s own brokenness and openness will be but momentary.

After his moment of heart-broken surrender, Pharaoh pendulums right back to his former position of hardness toward the Israelites and will send his entire army after them, a people fleeing on foot, from a nation chasing them on horse and chariot.

And what a staggering and terrifying position in which to find oneself…

 

All of this lies just ahead, and so God instructs them to eat up – dressed, sandals fastened, staff in hand.  Whatever perishable food they cannot consume is to be burned.  THIS shall be their new beginning – their first of months, their start to a new year…and a new life.

Their deliverance will come in a flash.
And they must be ready to seize it.

 

For God will free them mightily and powerfully, as those on the wrong side of love and justice, are brought to their knees…to consider the evil they have wrought and the lives they have pressed and taken.

A reckoning is here.

 

I am intrigued too at this verse in Romans today:

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law… Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

The very point of all the laws that God would give the Israelites, through Moses, was love.  For GOD IS Love.  GOD IS LOVE.

…The point all along was LOVE.

 

The Israelites are called to be God’s embodiment of love – that God’s love might shine into all the darkest places, setting creation free in the knowledge of God’s own delight!

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor.”

Love does no wrong to a neighbor.
LOVE does no wrong
To a neighbor.

 

Can we say that we have done no wrong to a neighbor?

 

We have taken moments to collectively remember our national sins of the genocide of Native Americans, the kidnapping of their children, and the stealing of their lands.

We have taken moments in these past weeks to collectively remember our national sins of the enslavement, of the oppression, of the lynching, of the discrimination, of the criminalization, and of the mass-incarceration of our fellow citizens and neighbors of color.

 

Can we say that as a nation, we have been on the right side of Love?
Have these actions embodied the love and deliverance of Christ?

 

When God again moves swiftly to let the oppressed go free, will we be swimming in the swift current of God’s saving LOVE?

Will we stand – fighting the current, clinging to our former positions of power and ease, comfort and stability – losing our souls to save our “lives”-as-we-know-them?

Will the flood have to overtake us,
Or those we love,

Before we let go and allow God to set God’s beloved people free? 

 

I know many among us have long worked and fought, spoken out and sacrificed, that the oppressed might go free.  I know many of you live lives that embody the LOVE of Christ, in so many acts of generosity and loving compassion.

 

God is alive.

And God is still writing the stories of history.

God is making wrong things right:
setting the prisoner free,
     giving sight to the blind,
     and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. 

 

Where will OUR lives stand,
Where will we AS A CHURCH stand,

 

When God swiftly rights the wrongs?  When God swiftly delivers?  When hearts and economies and powers must be broken wide open, to finally make room for the Spirit of God – just as the hearts and economies and powers of the Egyptians were to broke wide open, that justice might flow down like the mighty rivers…

Where will WE stand???

 

Our actions and inactions have consequences.
And LOVE calls us to account.
LOVE calls us to right the wrongs.
LOVE calls us to join with Christ in proclaiming,

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 

Paul declares in Romans,

“…it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light”

 

 

Let us pray: 

Holy and Mighty God,
Lover of Justice,
Protector of the Weak,
Deliverer of the Oppressed,
Lover of our Souls,…

Hear these our prayers. 

You have woken us.
We are awake.
We were blind, but now we see.
The night is gone.  The day is near. 

Help us…
to systematically
and completely lay aside every work of darkness
and to clothe ourselves in your love,
your armor of light.

 In Christ’s name we pray,
Amen.