Series: From Slavery to Freedom
Sermon #3: Freedom is Coming!
By: Donnell Wyche
Free to Worship
We closed last week’s sermon by considering how Pharaoh’s liberation was tied up with Israel’s. We acknowledged that in order for Pharaoh to let go of his fear it meant giving up the very wealth, comfort, and power he was so keen on keeping. We entered into this through the question, “What are you holding onto tightly?”
After Moses delivers God’s demand that Pharaoh release the people from the grip of empire, the clash of powers begin.
Back and forth.
Each demonstration greater than the previous with a familiar pattern emerging: a hint of contrition followed by a capitulation again to fear–what we might call a hardening of the heart. Each plague impacted and disrupted the power of empire. The plagues were a complete and utter disruption of the economic, ecological, and social impact of empire. With each plague God was making a declaration about the destiny of humanity. At the center of each demonstration of power was a declaration for freedom.
I’m reading in Exodus 7:16:
16Then say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness. (Exodus 7:16)
Did it ever occur to you that the people could have just worshipped God in Goshen? They could have just worshipped right where they were in Egypt. After the first set of three plagues hit Egypt, Pharaoh comes up with a solution, just worship your God right here in the land.
I’m reading in Exodus 8:25-26:
25Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.” 26But Moses said, “That would not be right. The sacrifices we offer the Lord our God would be detestable to the Egyptians. And if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us? (Exodus 8:25-26)
Pay attention to what Moses says, “that would not be right.” Moses goes on to give an explanation, “the sacrifices that we will offer to the Lord would be detestable to the Egyptians and because of our worship, we might get stoned.”
The social and political impact of empire influences the thought patterns, feelings, imaginations, expectations, and faith of those under foot, those oppressed. It’s not that the oppressed can’t worship God, it’s that God calls the oppressed to freedom, and from freedom, we can choose to worship.
Oppressed people aren’t supposed to thrive, and worshipping the Creator God of generosity, freedom, and enough can dislodge the power of empire, it’s a sign that freedom is coming. Worship in this way is forward-leaning, it imagines a new reality. As much as the people won’t to escape Goshen, God wants to get Goshen out of them. If it is true that we become what we worship, you can see why when we we choose answer the call to retreat and worship, it can transforms a culture, creating a shared social practice, and giving way to the re-ordering, re-shaping, and re-organizing of society. It’s a declaration about the world that God has created.
But Pharaoh is also committed to his view of the world, which is why Pharaoh rejects and resists this declaration of God. “No,” Pharaoh says. “No,” the empire says.
One of things I’ve been encouraging us to do over this series is to heighten our awareness of the messages that we are receiving. There’s a lot competing for our attention, whether it’s the upcoming mid-term elections, the confirmation hearings, the reckoning of the #metoo movement, or the after-effects of natural disasters. Who are you being to told to fear? Whose pain are you being to told to ignore? What are you being told to fear? Whose story are you being told to believe?
Pause, ask yourself, “Why?”
I am asking you consider the messaging you are receiving, I’m not trying to tell you what to believe. More than telling you what to believe, I want you to pay attention.
How you are living in God’s world? Are you living in fear or freedom? Are you living under the empire’s vision of the world, or God’s?
Are you using the powers of empire (fear, anger, apathy, judgment, shame, or greed) to control others and care for yourself? Or are you opening yourself to mercy, tenderness, kindness, generosity, gratitude, and joy?
Free to Go
In the tenth and final plague, Pharaoh seems to have a change of heart. The brutal and devastating plague of the first born is more than Pharaoh can handle. In the middle of the night, Pharaoh has had enough declaring, “Get out! Go! Leave now!”
31During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. 32Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.” (Exodus 12:31-32)
Sidebar: I was struck by Pharaoh’s demand that Moses bless him. Friends, empire is exclusively focused on itself and its benefit. Did you notice this? Even as Moses and the people prepare to leave, the empire is still making demands. Give me more. Give me everything you have. Bless me!
Reading now from Exodus 12:34,
33The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. “For otherwise,” they said, “we will all die!” (Exodus 12:34)
The cost of empire is too great for them to bear, so all of the Egyptians join their voices to Pharaoh’s demanding that the people leave. Lest God keeps grinding and destroying the empire until there was nothing left to destroy.
After 430 years of slavery and oppression, it would be unjust for the people to just leave. God allows the people to plunder the Egyptians.
Reading now from Exodus 12:35-36,
35The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. 36The Lord had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians. (Exodus 12:35–36)
It would have been a sin to just to release the Hebrews in the wilderness without a means to make their way in the new world. The Egyptians had amassed generations of wealth on the backs of the enslavement of the Hebrew. God not only condemns their physical enslavement in God’s declaration of freedom, but also their economic enslavement. Remember God is declaring something about the world. While condemning the oppression of people i Egypt, God also condemns hoarding because in God’s world there is enough–there’s just not enough for our greed.
What good would have done if the people had escaped slavery and oppression in Egypt just to be in abject poverty in the desert.
Choosing to Live in God’s World
The group of people who leave Egypt are not just “the Israelites,” you can make an argument that it’s really “a multiethnic group whose main unifying characteristic is that they just want out.”
I’m reading from Exodus 12:37-38:
37The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. 38Many other people went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds. (Exodus 12:37–38)
One of things that’s really striking in the Exodus story is who actively chooses to leave in the exodus. It’s not just the Hebrews. It’s also those who are done with oppression. When people who have been victimized by oppression see an opportunity for liberation, they will take it. Think about it this way, we become the people of God by choosing to leave behind what the empire offers and choose instead to surrender and develop faith and trust in the Creator God, who invites us into freedom.
Are you willing to something risky this morning? Are you willing to name what you are working on to leave behind in Pharaoh’s world or name what you are trying to live into in God’s reality and world?
Sometimes, it’s helps to do this publicly. We have two ways to participate. You can use the blue prayer cards from the seat pocket in front of you, or when you come to communion, you can come over to the answered prayer way and write it out up here.
Prayer Senses: The Lord may want to heal people who are confused about their identities or bring clarity to people who are experiencing confusion in their relationship with God. There is grace for next steps. The Lord is inviting us to keep an open mind as to what restoration from the Lord might look like. We are invited to ask the Holy Spirit to show us any places where we are struggling in this area to open our minds up to what God might have in store.