The Great Escape part 6

It’s great to have certainty in life.  
There are so many times that things change on us that certainty helps us settle down.  I think that that is the attraction that the 10 commandments hold to many people
In times of ethical uncertainty, there is something that is appealing about them
And there is probably quite a good chance that we know them

Let’s see how we go
 
1               You shall worship no other God

2               You shall make no molten images

3               You shall keep the feast of the unleavened bread

4               All first-born belong to the Lord

5               Work for 6 days but you must rest on the 7th

6               You must observe the fast of the weeks and the feast of ingathering

7               You shall not offer blood sacrifice with leavened bread

8               The fat of the feast must not remain until the morning

9               The first of the first fruits must be brought to the Lord’s house

10           You shall not boil a kid in its mothers milk

Exodus tells us that these are the commandments that Moses finally brought down the mountain. Whatever was written on the first lot got lost when Moses got annoyed and smashed them. So for certainty’s sake we should go with the ones from Exodus 34, right?

(Though I must admit, while I am pretty good at not boiling a kid in its mothers milk
and I don’t ever recall offering the blood sacrifice with leavened bread I cant say that I have always been so good at observing the feast of weeks or ingathering)

Though, if we decide that THAT version of the 10 commandments is there for a different purpose. We can go back to the one that is in Exodus 20 and Deut 5.   Almost the same each time.

So, here’s a quick quiz for you – How many commandments are in the 10 commandments?
For those of you who said 10, you are only sort of correct.

We are told that they are 10, but if you count the number of statements that are like commands there are around 14 in both Exodus 20 and Deut 5
And what is counted as a commandment varies between Hebrews Catholics, Lutherans & Protestants
So the 7th commandment in one reading is about not stealing, but to someone else it is about adultery.

All this is fine detail just about the text isn’t it?
The better and more important certainty about the 10 commandments is what they mean Because we all at least know what they mean, even if the numbers or the precise wording change.

Or does that actually depend on who you are and whom you ask.

Ask a soldier in war about the 5th/6th commandment – “You must not kill”
They will probably tell you it means something different from a Pacifist.
And they could well both tell you it means something different from a Federal Court Judge in USA

And if you ask people about what it means to keep the Sabbath holy,
Asking an Orthodox Jew will lead you to something quite specific.
Should you work in retail.   Should you buy things which means someone else has to
Should I even be preaching?

Then you can get into a discussion about what is the Sabbath.  
Is it Saturday, Is it Sunday or does it mean some notional 7th day, which could be any day ….

AAGGHHH

The 10 Commandments are not a blanket certainty, as much as some part of us might like it. They are an expression of the covenant relationship between God & people.
They are setting out a way for people who sign on to an alternative existence in life.

They are framing something new.   Something that doesn’t look like slavery and oppression
Something that says that the way we relate with and exercise power isn’t about objects and objectifying. They are about faithfulness to a relationship.

The early commandments are about the way that the people of God relate with God
God is not about a socio-economic, a political or a military project. There is a holiness. God is not there to be a utilitarian expression of convenience for the people.

The latter commandments are about the way that people are to relate with each other.
People are not there as a utilitarian expression of convenience for others.
There are limitations on the way that we live.
We are not to be trying to acquire all we can to survive.
Fellow human beings are to be respected, honoured, protected and treated with dignity.
A pretty important lesson for people coming out of generations of slavery and survival.

And sitting in between the early and the latter commandments is the one about the Sabbath. The centre of this new covenantal way of living is about stopping from work.
It is about drawing apart from the social aggressions in the market place.

This central command is about not being swallowed by the rat race – ancient or modern.

These are the values that we hear again by Jesus in the beatitudes and his teaching from the mountain. These are the values that when they are broken by the Israelites, broke God’s heart and had God start the whole thing again.

Their reminder to us is not to try and find certainty in rules and then define our lives by those rules.

But to find the relationship and the values that demonstrate  the ways that we honour the God who is with us and providing for us  and the people with whom we share our homes, our community and our world.

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The Great Escape part 4

23 October 2011

Last week, we concentrated on the story of the plagues and the Passover.
And we remembered it is a story which is a complex story which sometimes gets told simply.   Overly simply
 
There is part of that in today’s reading as well, and it is good that we don’t lose that element.
We can probably quite seriously understand Miriam’s song at the end of chapter 15
“I will sing unto the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously – the horse and rider thrown into the sea”
It is a song of joyous relief.  We have seen images of that same joyous relief coming from Libya over the past 48 hours.
We saw it coming from the USA and other areas across the world at the death of bin Laden in May.
There is something about this relief from an oppressing force that touches our very depth.
In fact this song by Miriam is the oldest recorded part of scripture.

There are times for us to reflect on the ethics of jubilation at the death of someone
And today the feelings that we have and we hear from others about Gaddafi
may help us reflect on the ethics of the joy of the Israelites.
It is no easy matter, and simplistic reactions either way undermine the ethical complexity.

But for today, I want us to think about those times when we or others
find ourselves trapped, bound and with no apparent way out
When we, like the Israelites, are caught between the Pharaoh and the deep red sea.

This story is one of the foundational stories of our faith
because we all live this story in one way or another.
All of us sometime find ourselves standing with our ancient forebears
on the banks of the Red Sea crying out in terror.
We commit ourselves to feeding the voice of hope in each of us,
while not shutting out the voice of despair.
For the voice of despair is part of the story too.  
It is the voice of despair which prompts God to say
“I have heard their cry and I have come to set them free.”

And when Jesus stood on his own Red Sea shore
and cried out in despair in the Garden of Gethsemene saying,
“Father, Isn’t there some other way than plunging into the sea of death in front of me.
But not my will but yours be done,”
there was God, ready to act again to ensure that although he plunge into the sea of death,
the way would open to the promised land of resurrection life on the other side.

When we shut out that voice and try to pretend that everything is on track and under control,
we start trying to prove it by asserting control and grasping at straws.
For the Hebrew people only two options seemed possible.
Either surrender and return to slavery and endure the increased suffering,
or fight the armies of slavery and at least die as martyrs in some kind of heroic freedom fight.
The odds behind them were overwhelming, but the sea in front of them was impossible.
And had they turned to engage with the pursuing armies, either in surrender or in battle,
surely they would never have even noticed the opening of a way through the impossible.

The God who hears our cry of despair, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
will act to save us. ”
The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land;
 and the waters were divided.
The Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea,
the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.”
 
The promise from Exodus – notwithstanding its ethical complexities,
is that God will come to save us,
to open a way through the sea of impossibilities and allow us to walk through.
And if we will take the way that God opens before us,
that same sea that saves us
will sweep away and destroy the forces of slavery and oppression
that sought to drag us back and hold us down.

The challenge is always, to be able to wait and trust,
 to resist the urge to hastily manufacture some half-baked solution of our own,
and to thus, in our busyness, miss the sign of the waters parting in front of us.
For God does not push us into the path that has opened.
God opens the way and bids us follow.

And just as the towering walls of angry water looked every bit as fearful
as what the Hebrews were fleeing, and just as arrest and crucifixion looked horribly worse than the mess Jesus was already in, so too for us the way that God opens will probably not look like a walk in the park on a summer day.

But God hears the voice of despair.
And God responds and comes to save.
And the promised land of life in the wide open spaces of God’s love
lies on the other side of the opening sea.
And blessed are those who put their trust in God
and step forward when God opens the way.

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The Great Escape part 2

I remember a few years back, there was a significant movement which advocated  that if you wanted your plants to grow better you should talk to them.

The herbal gardening society believes that it works, so too does the Royal Horticultural society even Mythbusters in one of their experiments classed the myth as plausible  though in a paper by the Professor of Horticulture at Pennsylvania State University  the conclusion was more guarded and suggested there isn’t a lot of research that proves any positive effect of talking to plants

So I don’t know if us talking to plants really has an effect or not. But today’s Bible reading certainly suggests that plants talking to us has an effect!

When Moses is going about his everyday business of minding sheep  something caught his eye.   He noticed something.

And it is the noticing of something that makes all the difference in the story.

Firstly – God has noticed something and has taken the initiative about it:

I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.  I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.  And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me,  and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them

And secondly Moses has noticed something and is ready to respond to it  Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up      Two simple things – God notices, and Moses notices

William H. Willimon, an Episcolpalian bishop in the USA tells a great story:

I think of a woman who was my lay leader in North Myrtle Beach.   Her methods were unorthodox, her theology was never apparent,   her language was often sprinkled with words not often heard in church.  But she knew about the world.    She also had gotten the idea that God expected her to be busy in the world in his behalf.

One day she was cruising down Ocean Boulevard   when a local policeman stopped the car of a youth in front of her.    She had seen this tactic before.    She knew that the city supported itself, in great part,   on the fines of youthful tourists whom the police preyed upon to enrich the city coffers.   She stopped her car behind that of the policeman.    “Can I help you, Miss Peggy?”, asked the offer as he stepped from his car.  “Yes.  Why did you stop that boy’s car?” she asked.    “I stopped him because he was speeding,” he replied.  “It’s really none of your business.”    “Well, I’m making it my business,” she snapped.    “I am sick and tired of you people busting these kids for minor violations.    If he was speeding, I was speeding.  I was going the same speed as he was.    You stopped him because he has long hair and an license plate from another state.” 

By this time the boy was out of his car with a confused look on his face.    His presence exasperated the patrolman who was now shouting at Peggy.    “Look, you had better stay out of this.  This is none of your concern.    I’m pulling this kid for a traffic violation and this is none of your business.” 

Peggy was undeterred.  “I told you it is my business.  It’s not right and you know it.    Let’s just go down to the station and talk this over…” 

“What’s the trouble, officer?” the bewildered youth asked.    The policeman did not answer.  He jumped into his patrol car,   slammed the door while muttering something about “smart mouth women,”   and squealed off in anger.  “Son, be careful.  Slow down and be careful,”   Peggy said as she started her car and drove on.

It’s about paying attention to what is going on!

But even though Moses paid attention, it’s certainly not the end of the story  How many people here are dancers?   Waltz?  Foxtrot?  Jive?  Disco?  Ceroc?  Here we are about to see the Moses shuffle be choreographed.

God and Moses do a two step, that has been re-performed countless times  All based on Moses dodging and God persisting

But Who am I? -I am not good enough  –       

I will be with you    Oh …

But Who are you – why should I trust you?    

I have been here with your ancestors 

I am reliable

But what if they don’t believe me and I fail?     

I will not let you fail   (I’m pretty good at this stuff)

But I am not talented enough:  I stammer     

If I can create humans and their speech  I can help you with what to say

Cant you find someone else … anybody? 

No.   But Aaron will help you

For all of the dodging, God follows in the dance  and despite its appearances at first, God is actually doing the lead.

Jesus seems more confident in his own baptism and his own call.  That probably seems easy enough to us – he is God’s son.   He has a head start!  The reality is we probably feel more like Moses than we do like Jesus

But Peggy got the message and had progressed beyond the Moses shuffle.  So too did Moses.   Eventually  I hope and pray that we each do as well.

 

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The Great Escape – part 1

At the Synod meeting on Tuesday while members were working through the profiles of people standing for various elections there was a brief and unusual assurance given to the Synod

Rads Sukhamar who had been leading much of the Synod’s worship for several days
and who had noticed that the her profile had listed her as “male” came to a microphone and said “Moderator, I would like to assure the members of Synod that I am female”

I said to her afterwards that I assumed that was not a sentence she imagined saying when she woke. As I am speaking this morning on the Exodus 1 passage I feel a little fraudulent as a male.

It may well be a passage about the beginning of Moses, but it is a passage about females.
Or at least the key agents of God’s work are females.

The story of the Exodus – which we are following over the next 7 weeks – is the core identifying story for the people of Israel, even to this day

It is the oldest part of scripture.  It was written well before the book of Genesis, which effectively gives us the back story much like Star Wars movies 1-3 came later, but were written as the back story to the main movies.

It is the identifying story for the people of Israel and it is one of the 3 key stories – alongside the kingdom/ temple and the story of exile used by the Christian faith in which to place the tradition of the life death and resurrection of Jesus.

We find this very clearly in Matthew whose gospel presents Jesus to us as the new and better Moses. But this story, this great escape, this foundation of faith is only possible because of acts of quite and courageous civil disobedience by women who have faded from the pages of our faith story.

If it were not for the compassion and courage of Shiphrah and Puah and Jochebed and Miriam and the unnamed daughter of Pharoah then the name of Moses would not ever have appeared on the pages of scripture or history.

If it were not for these women, then an early act of ethnic cleansing would have been felt in pain and grief, and then been long forgotten.

Shiphrah and Puah are the midwives who refuse to act on the orders of the ruler to kill the boys and make up a story about the Hebrew women giving birth too quickly for them.
– For moral purists, who believe there is no ethical instance to lie, this story plays with their framework

Jochebed is the mother who has come up with a plan of desperation to save him.

How phenomenally hard must it have been for Jochebed to cast her baby on to a boat
in the knowledge that the boat may overturn, or be caught by crocodiles in the reeds.
Putting your own child on a boat not knowing if he will live but knowing that there was no future of life for him with her.

The daughter of Pharoah – whose name we never ever discover – is the one whose compassion stands right in the face of her own father.

If the Quakers wanted to trace the idea of speaking truth to power back in scriptural history then this isn’t a bad place to start

And Miriam – we guess it is Miriam, though it could have been another unnamed sister –
is the sister who follows through on the mother’s plan of securing safety for the child and steps in to get Moses raised by his people, within his culture and his faith.

It’s a great story of great courage – the foundation for a inspiring work of faith which we will be looking at over the coming weeks

But at the same time, while I read this story, and its parallel in Matthew 2 I cant also help but go to the other babies for whom there was no such miraculous action of courage and compassion.

What of the other Hebrew babies who were cast into the Nile with no boat
What of the Jewish males who did not escape the clutches of Herod
What of the unnumbered infants throughout history for whom there is no great escape
 
The story of Exodus calls us to celebrate with Moses
It calls us to give thanks for Shiphrah, Puah, Jochebed, Miriam and Pharoah’s daughter
It calls us to weep with the families who lost their infants
And to grieve for those who were killed.

Later on this morning in this service, we will join in a time of lament for the ongoing suffering of mothers throughout history.

But at this stage we are reminded of the impact of 5 largely forgotten women of the faith

People whose willingness to stay with conscience and justice rather than follow the directions of power were truly world changing.  I bet they didn’t think they were changing the course of history I bet they thought they were simply doing what was right.

And this morning we are also reminded that when fear and compassion clash
God is going to be found on the side of compassion
When we act in ways that alienate and separate,
in ways which are driven by fear of the newcomer and the “other”
we will find ourselves at odds with God

Simple actions of compassion – doing what deep down we know is “right” –
can not only have impacts on the individuals we are with, but we may even find ourselves changing the course of history

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Animal Sunday

I find it significant that two of the most striking passages that deal with the complexity of human life, concerns and suffering end up as passages that guide into contemplations about creation.
Or maybe to spin it around, passages that guide us into contemplations about creation end up being some of the most significant about concerns, worry and suffering.

When Job has been agonising over his life and his suffering his protestations that life is simply not fair and after his friends have all had their go at explaining, or blaming,
God drops into the conversation with a series of questions about animals

 
Who provides food for the raven
Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? 
 Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?
Who let the wild donkey go free?
Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness
Do you give the horse its strength
Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom

In Luke, when Jesus’ followers are getting stressed about the practicalities of life and where all their necessities would come from, Jesus tells them to consider the ravens and consider the lilies.

Not to look at them, or listen to them, or stop and smell the roses, but to consider them

 It’s as if the creation around us, the animals, the birds, the smallest and the greatest
can jolt us into a better perspective – a more true to God perspective – of ourselves.

This is not to suggest that all the things that go on in our lives are small or insignificant
but we are invited into being more reflective and gaining perspective

For some people this deeper perspective becomes a life changing experience
that directs them into a career, or a new way of living

Roger Tory Peterson, author of Field Guide to the Birds, the birder’s Bible,
describes the experience that changed his life and set him on the course he was to follow.
One Saturday when he was a boy, he was taking a walk with a friend.
They came upon a flicker in a tree .
Thinking the bird was dead, he poked at it, gingerly.  But the bird was not dead, it was just asleep
When he touched it, its eyes flew open, and it flew away.
“This inert bunch of feathers suddenly sprang to life.”
What struck him was the contrast between what he thought was dead, but in actuality was very much alive.
“Almost like resurrection . . . Ever since then birds seemed to me the most vivid expression of life.”

 For others, like Job, the call to stop and pay attention to a world beyond himself
creates a sense of deep acceptance of life and a way of relating that is hope filled
 In the encounter with the wonders of creation, Job the questioner becomes Job the questioned.
Job has been spending his time gazing into a mirror and wondering about himself.
As the mirror is removed, Job has the capacity to see the wondrous creation of which he is one part.   Important, but certainly not central.
In knowing his place, Job has the chance to know himself.

Have you stood at the foot of a great mountain?
We don’t have any great mountains in Australia, so it’s hard.
Or have you stood in the middle of the outback – even the Hay Plains not too far from here –
where you couldn’t see anything breaking the horizon in any direction?
Have you stopped and watched the birds jumping from flower to flower
Have you considered the way that your pets move?
Have you carefully watched a guide dog with its owner?

I think possibly the most significant element of the two passages I’ve referred to is not that the disciples or Job end up understanding the sparrows, or the donkey, or the horse.
But actually that they don’t understand.   They are not asked to understand.
They are asked to consider, to stop and wonder and in the wondering, to learn of God.

When we celebrate new life in baptism,
one of the things that we do is say together the words of the Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the father almighty, creator of heaven and earth

There is a link – a direct link – between our faith in God and the affirmation that God is creator

One philosopher – Wendell Berry – has said that what we need to do is learn to experience our dependency on other things with gratitude. To accept with thanks that we are not independent, but that we are all interwoven in this creation.
Berry says “we are living from mystery
– from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend”

Creatures of joy.   
Creatures of wonder.  
Creatures of companionship. 
Creatures of mystery.

Consider these creatures.   Ponder their wonder.   Celebrate their companionship.
And live together in the greatness of God’s mystery of which we are all part.

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