Sunday, February 22, 2015

Today's Sermon: "Let My People Go". Seeking freedom from captivity to the Pharaoh's in our lives and in the world.

“Let My People Go”
Exodus 6:1-9
Beechmont Presbyterian Church
Louisville, KY
Feb. 22, 2015
 Rev. Debbie Blane

You know, the thing of it is that we are all held in captivity.   Captive to something.

Pharaoh goes by many, many names.  Pharaoh is addiction.  Pharaoh is a seeming inability to leave an abusive marriage.  Pharaoh is the belief that God intends men to act as if THEY are God in the lives of their wives and daughters.  Pharaoh is the belief between two men that they have the right to drag an entire country into their private power struggle, as is happening right now in South Sudan.

Being human is to be held captive to something.

Being God, which WE are not, is to desire to free the captives and heal the prisoners. 

In Exodus 6:6-9 God reveals the actions that would free the slaves in Egypt.  They are actions that also would free the slaves now, today and in the future.  Because Exodus speaks to us, you and me, just as much as it did to the Hebrews in Egypt.

God will:
1.  Take us out from under the yoke of captivity. 
2.  Free us from being slaves to the captors.
3.  Redeem us with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.
4.  Take us as God’s own people.
5.  GOD will be our God.  GOD will be our God.  The abuser will not be our God.
6.  We will know that God is God, the One who freed us from captivity to the yoke of bondage.  The yoke of bondage to someone, something or someplace.

When God speaks of possessing the lands that were promised to our spiritual ancestors, we can know that this is a promise to us as well.  God will care for our physical and spiritual needs.  We will possess a home that is safe and we will know that we are cared for. 
This does NOT mean that the original land of Israel is the promise.  It is NOT the promise.  But it does mean that God promises to take us from captivity and bring us to a place of love and safety.

Verse 9 tells us that when Moses spoke to God’s people, to the people whose care was given into Moses’ hands, they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.

Imagine what captivity would have been like for the Israelites.  They were in a foreign land.  In the beginning in that land they had been treated with respect and love.  They had been welcomed as a part of the people who already lived in Egypt.
As Pharaohs were born, ruled and died and new ones were born and rose to power the royal memory of the first Israelites that had come to Egypt faded.   A fear developed and grew that the numerous Israelites would swell in number to a greater population than that of the indigenous population. 

And so the Pharaoh who was Moses’ adopted grandfather made the Israelite’s slaves.  The Israelites did the heavy lifting.  They made bricks, they built the buildings.  They sweated and heaved and endured harsh labor.  And they cried out to the Lord. 

Do you do someone else’s heavy lifting?  Do you sweat and heave and endure harsh labor?  Are you a victim in your own home, or do you know someone else who is? 

Despite the thousands of years that separate us today, here in Louisville, in the United States, from the Egypt of the Pharaohs and the Israelites, despite the differences in cultures and language:  God speaks to us today through this Scripture passage just as God spoke through Moses to the Israelites all of those many, many centuries ago. 

When we are in pain and when we are burdened.  When we are in prison, whether a real prison or a psychological or spiritual prison, when we are held captive to something in our lives that is not GOD, we can cry out to God.  And God will tell that Pharaoh, that slave driver who keeps us in prison to let us go.  God will tell that person to let God’s child go!

It may not happen automatically or quickly.  It may be a process of our healing and being transformed by God into new people, as it was for the Hebrew people of Exodus.   It may be that God will give us a new life and new people in our new life.

But we can know that just as God took the Israelites as God’s own people and brought them out of the yoke of slavery in Egypt, God will bring us out of our own particular slavery, our own particular prisons.

When we despair, when we are frightened and we feel alone, when our burdens are too heavy and threaten to crush us, we can call on God for help.  And God will answer.

God will say to the demons:  LET MY PEOPLE GO!!!  And God will transform us so that the demons will have nothing to hold onto.  They WILL let go. 

The God of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and Leah and Rachel is our God too.  We know God through God’s child, Jesus.  Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel knew God in a different way, but they did know God.  And so did Moses. 

And guess what?  SO DO WE!!!!!

We also need to remember that God is not the God only of individual people and families, God is the God of economic systems that display and practice systemic injustice, and of countries where the leadership seeks to possess the power and control over other people that should rightfully belong to God.

About a year ago in Nigeria the Nigerian government responded ineptly and weakly to the kidnapping of almost 300 young women and girls by a terrorist group which was able to take these females at gunpoint from a boarding school in a remote area of the country.  It was only after the parents somehow made this issue known to the international community that the government began to ask for international help in finding the girls.  Power and control did not want to admit to weakness and was willing to sacrifice these girls and their families on the altar of their desire to play God.    What plan are they going to come up with to educate young women, AND young men, when it is not safe to send them to boarding schools for their education?  The school had guards.  That wasn’t enough.  The terrorist group is known as Boko Haram.  The name literally means “Western education is forbidden.” 

What can protect human beings from the kind of demonic power that believes that it can do whatever it wants to achieve its own ends and force its beliefs on the world?    Boko Haram has continued to kidnap and destroy and disrupt and cause terror.   
What kind of response will be there to this evil that will avoid generational ignorance and radical religious beliefs to be passed on.    Ignorance and poverty are the birthplaces of this kind of terrorism.  This kind of captivity.  This kind of pharaoh.

In South Sudan the power mongering of two men has set the entire country on fire with war, displacing over a million people and leaving the country on the brink of famine as a civil war has raged for over a year now.

There is Ukraine where the eyes of Russia’s lust for empire have split and divided the ethnic populations one from another, people who have lived together peaceably for generations and years of time. 

There is Syria where the inability of a leader to let go of power and control and say, no more fighting, killing, raping, bloodletting, do what is right for the well-being of my people.

There is, I believe, the newest incarnation of evil that is invading American homes through the television set every day and every night.  It is named ISIS, this particular pharaoh.  This pharaoh burns people alive, beheads innocent journalists and humanitarian workers and appears to hold the global community hostage as it acts out its doctrine of self-righteous justice.

There is Israel and Palestine where the hidden desires of the Israelis to take the whole of the land that was originally the home of the Palestinians are being revealed in due time and in due course to the world.  And the world is standing by and allowing the occupation to take more and more land and destroy more and more lives.  The battle that was alive and well in August of 2014 that took place in the context of the Gaza Strip killed – murdered – a disproportionate number of people, primarily civilians.  Every life, Palestinian and Israeli is precious in God’s eyes.  This should not be happening.

What should our response as Christians be to these atrocities that are being committed, sometimes in the name of Christianity itself?   Our response should be, LET MY PEOPLE GO!!!  Often because of our own Pharaohs, our own captivity to the status quo, our response is to turn a blind eye. 

When we ourselves are healed we can cry LET MY PEOPLE GO on behalf of the people who are still captive and are too weak to be heard by the Pharaohs of this world.  I think that as part of the worldwide Christian community we also need to be considering, besides trying to kill evil with guns, what is the response that Christ would have us make to evil? 
Remember that at the beginning of this sermon I said that in our own individual lives when we cry out to God to free us from our Pharaohs, God will respond.  We will be changed and evil will no longer have a place to grasp us.  And this may take time.

We cannot expect this global evil to be eradicated tomorrow.  At the same time we cannot be defeated by what is happening.  Pharaoh is running loose in the world.  How can we dig up the roots that are the underlying cause for this evil, this Pharaoh, to have a stronghold in God’s world?  How we can be a part of the world being transformed as we ourselves have been transformed?

I suggest that we look at the Gospel of Luke for a start.  In Luke 11:21-22 Jesus says, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe.  But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his plunder.”  Evil is the strong man.  How can the strong man be taken off guard and unarmed?  How do we find the weak places in this evil?  If we try to kill the enemy there are only others to continue filling in the empty spaces in the battle line.

In Luke 11:24-26 Jesus says further, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’  When it comes, it finds it swept and in order.  Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.” 

What does it take for Christians to get at the roots of the poverty and ignorance that cause such evil to multiply and wreak such havoc? 

As an alternative to war, to cleaning out or destroying that may produce more evil instead of eradication, we must be asking Christ, how do we show such love, your love, that this hate, this evil, this Pharaoh will be transformed?

Let my people go, let our people go and thanks be to God for being our, and their, liberator, redeemer and sustainer.  God opens wide God’s arms of justice and mercy and welcomes us, bids us to enter an embrace that will free us and make us whole.

We just have to cry out and then accept the invitation.
May the God of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel boldly be your God as well. 
May you find the freedom in your own lives from your own prisons, from your own Pharaohs.  May the God who promises redemption fulfil that promise in your own life and in the lives of those who you love, and in the lives of the neighbors who surround you and in the life of our global community.

May God bless you and be with you as you embark on your own journey to wholeness.  You know the saying, walk don’t run?  Well in this case, out of prison into God’s arms….run, do not walk! 

And our God says:  LET MY PEOPLE GO!  And it is so.