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Posts Tagged ‘Liberation’

The Plague of Locusts, illustration from the 1...
Image via Wikipedia

Recent weeks have brought lectionary texts from Exodus along with earthquakes, Hurricane Irene and other extreme weather.  There is always somebody ready to interpret natural disasters as messages from God.  One politician (in jest?) opined that nature’s recent extremes were a message from God telling congress to rein in spending.  This seems an opportune time to preach about the plagues in Exodus.  Interested in giving it a try?

A Contest of Kings
A Sermon on Exodus 5:1-6:1, 6:28-8:19; 12:29-40

Pharaoh tightened his grip on the Israelites.  “Who is ‘the LORD’?” he demanded to know.   “This ‘LORD’ of yours is irrelevant!  I’m king here.  I’m in charge here.  I’m god here.  No!  I will not let Israel go!”  And Pharaoh tightened his grip on a people whose spirits were already broken.

It was submit or die.  Try to fulfill the Egyptians’ impossible demands or die.  The Israelites were totally preoccupied with survival.  They were exhausted.  There was no time and no energy to hope, no resources to dream on.  No vision.  The way things were was the way they would always be.

And what happened when Moses and Aaron stirred things up?  Things got worse, that’s what!  Maybe Pharaoh was right.  Maybe the Lord was irrelevant.  Now they were struggling under even more cruelty, more brutality, more beatings and more blood, and the Lord didn’t seem to be lifting a finger to help.

We don’t have to work too hard to imagine what the iron fist of Pharaoh looks like and what that grip feels like, and what a broken spirit is.  It’s the stranglehold of addiction.  It’s the prison of being dependent on an abusive spouse.  It’s the overwhelming weight of injustices, millions and millions of people unable to afford health insurance in the richest nation on earth, to name just one.  Corporations paying CEOs millions and millions, while moving jobs offshore and paying little or no taxes, to name another.  When Pharaoh is in charge we can’t imagine any other way to live except by high oil consumption and dependence on terrorist-producing regimes like that of Saudi Arabia.  When Pharaoh’s in charge, helpless hungry people starve even though there’s plenty of food to go around in this world.  Pharaoh’s in charge whenever people shake their heads and say, “Nothing’s going to change.  All we can do is what we always did.” (more…)

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The Raising of Lazarus

Image by Lawrence OP via Flickr

As we prepare once again to address the pain of the world, and the pain of our congregations, here is a sermon on John 11, the gospel lesson for Lent 5A.

Unbind Him!  Let Him Go!
A Sermon on Exodus 2:23-3:10; John 11:17-44

The pain was deep.  Mary fell at Jesus’ feet and sobbed her heart out.  The illness had been bad enough.  If only Jesus had gotten here sooner!  Mary was wrapped in grief as surely as Lazarus was wrapped in burial bindings.

At the sight of her pain, Jesus was deeply distressed.  Mary, Martha and Lazarus were his friends.  It was sorrow and concern, yes, but it was also anger.  The Greek word used there lets us know he was both sorrowful and angry.  Jesus was angry when he saw what sickness and death had done to this family.  “Where have you laid Lazarus?” he asked.  “Lord, come and see,” they answered.  And then Jesus started to cry.  Jesus saw their predicament.  He heard their cries.  He knew how much it hurt.  He knew.

Centuries before, God had been every bit as touched by the pain of the Israelites in bondage in Egypt.  God heard their cries.  God saw their suffering.  And God knew.  How he knew.  The Hebrew word there is yadah, and it means much more than knowing a fact in your head.  It means deep knowing, deep understanding.

God still sees, and God still hears, and God still knows.  God knows what bondage does to people, where governments now use the same kind of terror tactics that the Egyptian Pharaohs used.  Where hunger and disease stunt children’s bodies and minds if they survive at all.  Where sickness and profound physical or mental infirmity make people prisoners inside their bodies.  Where addiction keeps people stuck in self-destruction and despair.  Where anxiety paralyzes people so thoroughly they can’t see what’s possible for them anymore.  A good future just doesn’t seem possible.

Oh yes, God knows what binding does to people.  It does just what footbinding used to do to women and girls in China.   Tiny feet were thought to be pretty.  And so, at about age three, all of a little girl’s toes except the big toe were broken and folded under the foot.  Then the big toe and heel were forced as close together as possible, and the feet were bound in tight wrappings.  This held the feet in this position and to stop them from growing.  It caused intense pain and deformity, death in some cases.  The result: feet that were only three or four inches long and so bent that women walked on the big toe and the heel, which were squashed together.  Simply walking was a big struggle.

Binding, bondage causes pain and deformity.  Even if we are blessed to be spared most forms of bondage, there are two forms that spare no one: sin and death.  Sin is much more than disobeying a rule.  It is much more than simply choosing to do the wrong thing.  It is much more subtle and powerful than that.  Sin sneaks in even when we do all we can to do the right thing.  We do our very best, and we still find that there was some hurtful result.  And we are caught in webs of injustices, as when we realize that some benefit we enjoy is at the price of some poor person’s pain in another part of the world, or even in this country.  Paul called it the law of sin at work in us.  We are prisoners of the law of sin.  We are prisoners of the law of death.  No wonder the book of Revelation pictures humanity at the mercy of a dragon and two terrible beasts! (more…)

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