I’m doing a sermon series this Fall called the Promises of God moving through the Old Testament. In September, I read through Genesis about God’s promises about family taken from the stories of Adam and Eve, Abraham and Joseph. Today, I chose to move into the story of the Exodus for another of God’s promises.
We need to know the promises God made to Abraham to understand the turmoil of God’s people in Egypt. God had promised Abraham land, blessings, and descendants. God said Abraham would be blessed to be a blessing. God had fulfilled His promise to Abraham for many descendants, more than the stars in the night sky. The problem is all these people were living in someone else’s land. Abraham had not yet received God’s promised land.
So, there are all these descendants of Abraham living in Egypt and there’s a lot of them. The Egyptian Pharoah saw all these people and was threatened by their growing number. God’s promise to Abraham was that he would be blessed to be a blessing to others. The Pharoah didn’t understand that all these people were being blessed by God in order to bless others. God’s promise to Abraham made by a covenant lived on through Abraham’s descendants. They too were blessed to be a blessing. The Pharoah was concerned about what the Hebrew people might do TO Egypt. He didn’t understand that he could look to the Hebrew people to what they could do FOR Egypt.
The Pharaoh was concerned about securing his nation, wealth and power so he enslaved the Hebrew people and oppressed them. That’s the problem of not having their own nation or land. The Hebrew people were living in another nation under the rule of a Pharaoh who did not worship their God and understand their blessing and covenant. The Hebrew people did not have their own land where they were free to govern themselves and live into the covenant God had established with Abraham.
The Hebrew people were enslaved for 400 years in Egypt. God had heard their cries and remembered a promise He had made to Abraham’s grandson Jacob to bring his family out of Egypt. God had heard their cry and remembered His promise so God went to freeing His people from slavery in Egypt.
I’m sure we’ve all seen Charlton Heston in The 10 Commandments to know the story of the Exodus. Moses was sent by God to the Pharoah to get the people set free. There were 9 plagues leading up to the final plague of the first born. There’s a kids Sunday school song about the plagues. Did anyone learn that song?
Who can list the plagues of Egypt?
Nile turned to blood, frogs, insects, wild animals, livestock disease, boils, hail, locusts, darkness.
Then comes the worst one of all. God’s angel will pass through Egypt and kill all the firstborn of every living thing, human and animal. God’s people will prepare for this plague by eating a special meal, painting their door posts with the blood of the lamb, and being ready to run.
This story is the central event in Israel’s story of God. Exodus 13 tells the Jews to retell and ritualize this story every year in the Passover meal. Exodus 13:8 says tell your children that this Passover meal is eaten to remember what God had done for us when we came out of Egypt. The Exodus story of the Old Testament is to the Jews as Easter is to us. The Passover meal is to the Jews as Communion is to us. We take communion to remember what Christ did for us and the Jews celebrate the Passover meal to remember what God did for them.
The Exodus is a new book in the life of the Hebrew people and God. Through the Exodus, the people set out for a new place and a new way of life which requires them to place a new trust in God. The Exodus set the Hebrew people free from the situation of slavery but it was a process to set them free from the slavery mindset. Pastor Paul Dean says “it is easy to bring people out of slavery; it is hard to take the slavery out of the people.” It takes longer to transform the mind of abused, deprived, forsaken to a new way of thinking of blessed, loved and free.
The coming 40 years in the wilderness wandering around finding the Promised Land would be about God transforming the people. In Egypt, there wasn’t enough and they hoarded what they received for the times they didn’t receive anything. In Egypt, they relied on the Pharaoh for what little they did receive. There was a new economy with God, where in Egypt there was scarcity, with God there would always be enough. The Hebrew people needed to learn that they could rely on God for the provision of daily food. And, that transformation started with the Passover meal. The Hebrew people would have one last meal in Egypt and leave. Any leftovers would be burned. They didn’t need to pack it up in their Tupperware and carry it through the desert in their monogrammed 31 bags. They would receive what they need for the journey along the way.
When we read the Exodus story, we read God’s promise of deliverance. We should be reminded “that we are a people in bondage who worship a God who is intent [on] setting us and keeping us free.” When the Hebrew people were given the instructions for eating the Passover meal, they were told to be ready for a journey, sandals on and walking staff in hand. They could only take with them what they could carry and they wouldn’t want to take a lot with them because they didn’t know where they were going, how long the journey would be, or how long they’d have to carry their stuff. God has promised us opportunities to be set free from the past if we are willing to embrace a new life.
I think the Church, Jesus’ church, which includes both of our churches and all the churches all over the world, the Church universal has the opportunity for deliverance. We have the choice to walk away from the past and move toward a future Jesus has planned for His Church. In order to embrace a new future, there are things we’ll need to leave behind, maybe a few things to take with us then we can prepare for a transformation as we journey to the future of faith communities.
We’re held in bondage to the golden days of the 1950s church when our Sunday school classrooms were full and pews were full and collection plates were full. We want to put all of our effort into preserving the past, maintaining what we still have and re-creating what has been lost. We think we can keep doing what we’ve always done and have a future based on our past. But, the past is the past. We can’t go back. We can’t do what we’ve always done and expect what worked in the 1950s with Baby Boomers to work in the 21st century with Millennials.
The Church’s journey to something new means letting go of what has been and setting out toward a future that may be very different from what we’re used to. We can’t be held captive to “that’s not the way it’s always been done.” If we are going to be set free, we have to be willing to let go of the past and walk away only with what we can carry because we don’t know how long the journey will be or what the future will look like.
We can trust for God to deliver us from this bondage to the past and give us a church with new life, because we have the assurance of stories like the Passover that remind us of what God has done and give us hope for what God may do with us. As we participate in our memorial meal and we remember what God did for us through Christ, may our hope for the life of the Church be renewed and may we receive nourishment from the bread and wine for the journey ahead.