Posts

“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.

 

 

“Children of the Promise”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Genesis 15:1-6
Hebrews 11:29-12:2

Genesis 15:1-6

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

 

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.


 

How many times have I read this scripture from Hebrews  – to run the race that is set before us – without reading the scripture before it.  And now that I am reading the verses that come before, what a different way I’m hearing it!

The writer of Hebrews lists name after name of those who lived their lives by faith, and then he continues by listing those more recently who have lived by faith and suffered dearly for their lives of faith.  In all these cases, he claims that these faithful ones did not receive what they were promised because God had something better – us!  Yes, US!

Their lives of faith were for a purpose.  Their sacrifices and risks and losses were for a purpose.  And that purpose was all of us!  Through their lives of faith, we have also heard, Christ has come, and God has poured out the Spirit on all flesh!

 

Could these faithful ones – who gave it all, who risked it all – have ever imagined that God would use their acts of faith to reap a harvest of faith in believers to come, for generation after generation?!?

Could they have known how their acts of faith would unclog righteousness that justice would flow down like the mighty waters?

Could they have known how their acts of faith would carry the torch so future generations could see and receive the Messiah, Christ among us?!?

Could they have known, how many would be set free?!??

 

The writer of Hebrews explains that WE make THEM perfect.  WE are the inheritance God promised them.  We are the land of promise.  WE are the fruit of their labors!

 

These champions of the faith have been given us, as their reward.  They have multiplied the Kingdom!  They have helped to usher in the Kingdom on earth!!!

 

 

So, how does that make you feel?

 

It sounds crazy – that the writer of Hebrews would be talking about us, as if we were so great.  But we are!  We are the substance of things hoped for, of things not yet seen.  We are the fulfillment of God’s promises to these faithful ones!  We are what so many labored and loved and worked and sacrificed for.

 

Can you believe it?

 

 

Who do you labor and love and sacrifice for?

Do you ever wonder whether or not all your efforts are in vain?

What if God showed you how your acts of faith have impacted, not only those you love, but also the many who will come after you?

 

We all affect one another.  When we carry the torch of faith, it is not about us.  It is about the God who we serve.  It is about all those God loves and is seeking out.

 

And how many will know God’s love because of us?

How many will hear of God’s mighty acts because of our lives?

How many will know God’s freedom and truth, because of us?

How many will walk in righteousness and do justice, standing on our shoulders?

 

 

It is a humbling thought.

Our lives are more than just our own. 

 

 

And knowing that as we walk in the ways of our God, we are standing amidst a great cloud of witnesses – how does that make you feel?

We are not alone.  All who have come before and ran this race are among us still.  They reside now in the presence of God, and they cheer us on.  They are witnesses to our lives, as we have taken up the torch of faith they carried and continued on.

 

We are not alone.

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

Even when we are alone.  We are not alone.

 

Can you see it?

Do you believe it?

 

If we remember that all those we’ve known and loved and lost are with us still, coming around us, cheering us on, what would change about our lives? 

 

Is it possible

we would finally lay aside all the doubts and fears,

sins and distractions that cling so closely?

Is it possible

We would remember what really matters?

It is possible

We would take courage from their courage?

Is it possible

we would live as though our lives really matter?

 

…because they do. 

“Discipline and Abiding Love”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 107
John 3:16-17
Hebrews 12:5-13

Psalm 107

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
He turns rivers into a desert,
springs of water into thirsty ground,
a fruitful land into a salty waste,
because of the wickedness of its inhabitants.
He turns a desert into pools of water,
a parched land into springs of water.
And there he lets the hungry live,
and they establish a town to live in;
they sow fields, and plant vineyards,
and get a fruitful yield.
By his blessing they multiply greatly,
and he does not let their cattle decrease.
When they are diminished and brought low
through oppression, trouble, and sorrow,
he pours contempt on princes
and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
but he raises up the needy out of distress,
and makes their families like flocks.
The upright see it and are glad;
and all wickedness stops its mouth.
Let those who are wise give heed to these things,
and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.

John 3:16-17

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Hebrews 12:5-13

“My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
or lose heart when you are punished by him;
for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves,
and chastises every child whom he accepts.”

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

For far too long, Christianity has been presented to so many as a life insurance policy.

“Escape the wrath to come!” we have been warned.

“There will be unquenchable fire and brimstone!”

Come to think of it, I don’t even know what a brimstone it, but I gather it is NOT good.

For many generations and in many faith traditions, the primary means of evangelism is a good scare tactic:  scare people into conversion.

These traditions know the truth about our behaviors:  indeed, we are more motivated to act by fear than by hope or desire or even love itself. Fear is a very powerful and primal instinct.  So if you scare someone enough, you can pretty much lead that one to do almost anything.

How have we been led into fear?
Is it possible many of our actions spring out of fear as well?
Have you ever been in conversation with someone and they are responding completely irrationally?
Have you ever wondered why?
Sometimes fear is behind it.

Many a “successful” person or business has learned how to capitalize on fear.  Literally, whole industries are built around making money off our fears.

When we are continually being bombarded with fear-based messages, it is natural to get into cycles of reaction.  Rather than calmly responding to situations using that higher functioning portion of our brains, we are stuck in the most basic places of our brains, fighting or running away.  And if we stay in these places of fight or flight too long, these patterns become deep, well-worn pathways in our brains.  It actually becomes difficult to get our brains out of the rut they are in!

It is important to be aware of fear-based messaging.
It is important because our reactions and responses matter.
If we are stuck being reactive, we may never get to that whole and grounded place of responding…with God’s love.

In the Psalm we read today, we read of a God who takes away good things from those who walk in wicked ways and who brings abundant and miraculous provision for those who walk in God’s ways.

This message has been a hard one for some of us to stomach.

It isn’t that we don’t want fairness and justice so much as that many of us are fed up with fear-based messaging.  It’s been verses such as these that have been used like a weapon or a prod to coerce others into conversion and good works.

But we have to exercise care not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Though messages such as these have been used to coerce and manipulate, when we step away from all that, these same verses have truth and wisdom for us.

God does in fact hate evil. God does in fact oppose all that is wicked, all that takes life, all that destroys and oppresses life.  And we could not serve a God who was any other way. We need a God who doesn’t simply hurt with us and feel our pain.  We need a God who enacts justice, and works to make wrongs right, so that peace and freedom and love and joy might cover the earth. This is the God we serve!

So as we read passages that talk of the discipline of God, it is important to remember the absolute beauty and love behind such passages.

Just like a loving parent, disciplining her child…  Just like a wise teacher disciplining his student…  Just like grandparents who allows natural consequences to play out and be the teacher to their young grandchild…

So God disciplines us.

Is it to break us?
Is it to condemn us?
Is it to disapprove of us?
Is it to shun and reject us?

No.

Absolutely not.

It is BECAUSE we are loved and cherished that God disciplines us.

In fact, we should be concerned if we are not experiencing the discipline of God because one way God shows Gods love is through discipline.

In discipline, we simultaneously reaffirm the relationship and the hope for that person while drawing a line and saying “No more” to harmful and harming behaviors and actions.

Now this is not necessarily how we’ve experienced discipline in our lifetimes.  Some of us have felt persons in authority “disciplining us” purely out of their own emotional reactiveness.  Some of us have experienced the harm of retaliation and revenge, cloaked in the name of “discipline.”

But true discipline is for the sake of the very person receiving the discipline!

It is for the LIFE of the very person being disciplined!
True discipline is redemptive.
True discipline is loving, even while it is firm.

Throughout this season of Lent, I have been inviting us to quiet ourselves before God.  In quieting ourselves before God, we open our hearts and minds to the Spirit of God.

And speaking from experience, this can be both a balm and a fire to our lives.  God heals us.  So where something is out of joint, where we are out of balance, where our habits are bringing harm to us and to others – rather than good – God is working out healing in us.  This can be painful.  It is also relieving!  Because God works to satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts.  Christ is at work ushering in that fullness of life, that wholeness to our lives, that quality of life, that abundant life that we are made for. And usually for us to RECEIVE this healing and wholeness, we must let go of all that is opposed to our healing: our bad habits, toxic relationships, patterns of reactiveness and fear, etc.

To allow God to work LIFE in us, is a risky thing.

But it is EVERYTHING.

It is freedom.
It is wholeness.
It is peace.
It is joy.
It is meaning.
It is LIFE.

I often find it more convenient to avoid God.  Sometimes I don’t want to feel what I am feeling.  Sometimes I don’t want to see and face what is out of joint in me.  It is easy to fear that if we go with God to the deep dark places of our hearts and minds, we may never emerge whole again.

My encouragement to you is that our God is trustworthy.
Our God brings water to deserts.
Our God can heal, with only a word.

Will we meet with the God who is longing to meet with us?
Will we open the door and invite God into the depths and desert places of our hearts?
Will we ask God to speak into our confusion, our anger, our fears?
Will we invite God into our unkept selves, our wounded selves, the selves we do not show the rest of the world?

And will we allow our loving God to begin that healing work?
Will we submit to God’s direction?
Will we listen to that still small voice?
Will we obey when God speaks?

God’s discipline is not meant to condemn.  It is not a weapon for manipulating others.  It is not a rejection.  It is quite the opposite.  It is God claiming us a children and friends, and inviting us into wholeness and fullness of life!

The writer of Hebrews says it well:

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

The Good Physician Christ is working still for our healing and wholeness and that of the whole world.  Thanks be to God!

May we allow Christ in,
allowing light into the dark places,
that what is out of joint may not become lame…but healed!

We are indeed children of the Almighty God!

Praise be to God for God’s discipline,
God’s healing,
and God’s abiding and steadfast love for us!