Message for September 11, 2011

Sermon – September 11, 2011
Exodus 14: 19 – 31; Matthew 18: 21 – 35

A great deal has happened since we last visited the Exodus story. Two weeks ago, Moses was an infant floating in a papyrus boat into the presence of the Princess of Egypt. She adopted him, and he was actually raised by his own mother and sister. You will recall that the lives of the Hebrew people had changed drastically since the time of Joseph, the young man who was sold into slavery only to become the Governor of Egypt and the saviour of the family of Jacob during the drought. The family moved from Canaan to Egypt – from scarcity to abundance – and, eventually from freedom into slavery. We heard two weeks ago about the sadistic and ruthless efforts of the Pharaoh to eliminate the baby boys and to enslave the men and women who were Hebrews.
Today, we hear about them walking into freedom…but that comes after a long time of struggle. Moses has reluctantly returned to Egypt to begin the long process of freedom fighting…one that includes devastating plagues leading up to the final plague – which includes the death of every firstborn including that of the Pharaoh himself – all attributed to the God of Abraham and Jacob – the God who calls the Hebrews from slavery to freedom…and to the journey out of Egypt to find a home.
This journey from slavery to freedom is one of the foundational stories of the Hebrew people. It is steeped in an understanding that God not only brought this about, but also led them by a pillar of fire and cloud – a very real presence in their midst.
Today, this epic story is celebrated every year in the feast of the Passover… when the Hebrew people escaped the dreaded final plague of death by painting their door lintels with lamb’s blood so that the cloud of death would “pass over” their houses without effect.
Once again, we must remember that this is an ancient story – a sacred story – about how God has worked to save the people – and that the particulars of the story are ones that rang true to the people of the time, regardless of the supernatural aspect that is included in the story. The overall meaning remains that God is working through Moses to bring about freedom, wholeness and meaning within them. Remember: the scribes who are writing down these stories are doing this 700 or so years after these events, and that the purpose of these writings are to assist the Hebrew faith to endure beyond the time when they are, yet again, slaves in Babylon – far away from the land where they had finally settled – around Jerusalem and the Temple there in Judah. Remembering that these stories have not only a purpose but also have a wisdom that rings true even today is important. Without that realization, it is hard to give any real credence to the stories themselves… when we say they cannot be factually true, therefore they can all be dismissed. Understanding the wisdom behind the stories allows us to search for the truth we can find there.
The larger truth is the constancy of God’s presence in the midst of trouble – a constancy that survives the actions of the people – their reluctance, their resistance to change, their fear, their loss of faith….even their treachery.
Here we are, today – a day of remembrance of devastation in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania – a day that has become known by an icon of sorts – “9/11”. Here we are in place where the Hebrew people found themselves: an army of terror behind us and a wall of the unknown ahead of us in the form of the Reed Sea – a huge barrier for people who cannot swim. We too are acquainted with fear, and loss, and resistance, and reluctance, and treachery. We too wonder “where is God in all of this mess?”
It would be so wonderful to have a Moses character in our story…someone to raise his arms in the air and bring forward supernatural miracles. But we live in a different age…the realities of life are the same, but we have little in the way of language and thought to describe our hope. Unlike those scribes, our writers have more difficulty arousing hope amongst us with stories of mysterious miracles to answer our prayers. We do, however, have our own stories of reality – lived by us, or part of our history.
When I was a child, only the wealthy families went to see a doctor on a regular basis. The doctor’s office and hospital were only for those at “death’s door”. Then Medicare became a reality and my health problems were finally diagnosed and treated.
As a 20-something, I can recall gazing into the sky one July evening and watching – at the same time – the TV broadcast of the lunar landing module – on the actual moon where no one had even thought of going before.
Since that time, the Berlin wall that separated Western Germany from the Eastern Soviet Germany was knocked down by ordinary people on both sides of the wall….and no shots were fired.
We have discovered that many mental illnesses have a biological basis – so we can no longer treat the depressed and the anxious among us like second-class citizens who are willfully different – as lazy and crazy.
The Reed Seas of our own times have been crossed and they keep beckoning us to scale barriers in our lives and in our cultures. The aftermath of September 11, 2001 continues to roll out before us.
The scripture story puts all the power in the hands of God – this God who works to bring justice and mercy to those oppressed and needing his help. It is God’s power and God’s power only that divides the Sea…and God’s power that obliterated the Egyptian army – the story puts it this way, “I’ll …put my glory on display so that the Egyptians will realize that I am GOD.”
In today’s understanding of the Divine Spirit – or God – is different in many ways. The supernatural element of an omnipotent power outside of the known world is acknowledged now as an ancient understanding based on a culture that lived on an earth that was flat, where the earth was the centre of the universe, and the earth was controlled by various supernatural forces outside of anyone’s perception. Today we recognize these influences in the scripture stories – and the way of thinking that was at work in that.
However, our current understanding – that the Divine Spirit is at work within and through us as well as throughout the world, not in a supernatural way – is more helpful in many ways…we ourselves are co-creators of our world – we are required to take responsibility for all of our actions – we can no longer blame “God” for what happens to us or through our actions.
And so, as we prepare ourselves for the challenges of our times, we need to dig deep within us – and the Divine Spirit we find there – to do the work that needs to be done – the Divine work of bringing freedom, wholeness and meaning in our own lives and the lives of those around us.
Our United Church Creed states it this way: “We are not alone…We believe in God, who works in us and others by the Spirit.”
This past week the “Terry Fox” runs and walks took place again. That young man from British Columbia – the young man with one leg claimed by cancer – the young man whose passion and dedication for raising funds to find a cure for this disease – the young man who was forced to stop his quest just outside Thunder Bay – some 5,373 km from the town in Newfoundland on Atlantic Ocean where he began… had an impact beyond his own profound success in his own run. His impact is incalculable, until you start to calculate it: 32 streets, one mountain, 1,164 cancer research grants and awards, $553 million invested in cancer research...as of 2009…and more to come.
We all have, within us, passions and dedication for making the world a better place. These passions are Divine Spirit calling us, nudging us, drawing us into the work that we must do. The Reed Sea needs to be crossed so that we might be free. The economy must be balanced so that the wealthy are not the only ones with opportunities and benefits. The Earth’s environment needs it voice to be heard and heeded so that we as a species might continue to exist.
There are so many challenges ahead of us…but we are not alone. Whether we look deep within us or up to the clouds for God’s presence, it is our call to meet the needs of our neighbours as well as ourselves in ways that are compassionate and life-giving.
We are on that journey together. Prayer for the Journey VU# 648