Cross of Grace

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

G2A #4: "The Story of Our Life" – Exodus 1-15

What’s the story that defines your life?

What is the story that that most accurately represents or most completely informs your life?

Perhaps it’s a story stemming from the immigration of your ancestors? Many of us are quite conscious of the path our previous generations journeyed to bring the family to America–stories of precarious escape, fortunate assistance, and ceaseless hard work to make a better life for future generations.

Perhaps it’s a story about your children…or lack thereof.

Perhaps it’s a story of success from your own life: a chance encounter, a stroke of luck, an “in the right place at the right time” circumstance, or a hard-won achievement that opened up a world of possibilities.

Perhaps it’s a story of failure from your own life: a squandered opportunity, an “in the wrong place at the wrong time” circumstance, a door slammed in your face.

Perhaps it’s a story rooted in your physical well-being. Maybe you were part of a high school sports team that won the state championship. Maybe you have adopted a physical activity that gives order and structure to your world, such as jogging, weight-lifting, or yoga.

Perhaps its’ a story rooted in your physical ailments such as a devastating medical diagnosis, an addiction, or mental illness.

Or, perhaps it’s a story rooted in your affinity for a sports team. Have ever seen the remarkable encounter whenever two strangers meet and learn they are both Chicago Cubs fans? It’s an instant bond of solidarity rooted in understanding, suffering, and the optimistic motto: “Wait ’til next year.”

We define our lives by the stories not only of our lives but also the stories of the lives of those before us, beside us, and after us. The stories that define our lives can either enslave us or set us free.

My goal in these twelve weeks of exploring the scripture from Genesis to Acts is to uncover a greater understanding about the stories of faith that define God (and ultimately, ourselves). So far we have heard stories that would define God as a creator, destroyer, forgiver, promise-giver, and promise-keeper. While each of these labels point to some truth about God, it is the story of the exodus that becomes the primary way that God (and eventually Jesus) comes to be understood. The story of the exodus is the story that defines God’s life. It is, therefore, the story that defines our lives. It is the story of freedom.

A lot of narrative has taken place since we left off last week with Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. Isaac went on to have two sons: Esau and Jacob. Jacob teamed up with his mom to trick his father into giving him the blessing meant for his older brother. Jacob ran away from home only to find himself engaged in a wrestling match with an angel. The angel changed Jacob’s name to Israel and proceeded to brake his leg – laying the foundation for the idea that when you wrestle with God you end up walking away limping.

Jacob had many sons, but he favored Joseph; thus, Joseph was despised by his brothers. They plotted ways to get rid of him, eventually selling him to some nomads. While imprisoned in Egypt, Joseph’s ability to decipher dreams and foresee a devastating famine eventually led him to a privileged position in the Pharaoh’s cabinet. The whole family immigrated to Egypt seeking food, and there were reunited with and forgiven by Joseph. They chose to stay in Egpyt, instead of returning to the promised land.

The immigrant Hebrew people obeyed God’s original commandment to “be fruitful and multiply." Their prosperity in Egypt was so great that it threatened the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh had no tolerance for people who didn’t speak the native language or worship their gods (of which he considered himself one); he was threatened by the immigrant’s prosperity; and he was convinced that in the event of war, the immigrants would show their true colors and join forces against the Egyptians from the inside.

So, the Pharaoh decided to murder all the Hebrew male children. Politically, this was a guaranteed check-mate. The remaining Hebrews men and women would continue to be enslaved, thus contributing to the national economy. And the girls would be unprotected from sexual assault from Egyptian men, meaning that any children born would not only be future slaves, but more importantly, only be half-Hebrew.

The act of faithfulness that initiates the story of the Hebrew freedom is the faith-filled refusal of the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, to murder the Hebrew male newborns. We can’t ignore the radical nature of this story: God uses the actions of two women who were very low on the cultural pecking order to initiate the freedom of God’s chosen people.

It is so incredible, it makes you wonder what other radical and unlikely people God will employ to see the exodus to completion I mean, what’s next––a stuttering murderer on the run, exiled from both his nation and his people, hiding out among a flock of stinky dirty sheep?

Well, yes, that is exactly the guy God chooses to see the exodus to completion! His name is Moses.

What ensues is this incredible story of God using the unlikeliest of heroes to convey God’s presence in a world of oppression, scarcity, and fear. The entire story establishes the timeless conflict between two types of ruling over people:

On the one hand is Pharaoh–whose leadership is about diminishing life, limiting growth, possessing, keeping people enslaved, and killing when one is threatened. On the other hand is the Lord–whose leadership is about multiplying life, being fruitful, setting people free, being in relationship, and who only resorts to killing as a way last resort in order to free those who have been enslaved.
— Rolf Jacobson

In the end, it is God’s life-giving version of lordship that proves more powerful than the Pharaoh’s life-taking version of lordship. Freedom is brought about by faithfulness, not force; patience, not political power. In the end,

The exodus is seen to be a sign of hope that poverty and oppression are not the last word, for God is at work on behalf of a different future.
— Terrence Fretheim

The exodus is the story that defines God’s life. From this point on in scripture, God is referred to as “The one who brought us up out of the house of slavery.”

The exodus is also the story that defines the lives of God’s chosen people. From this point on in scripture, God’s chosen people are referred to as “Those whom God brought up out of the house of slavery.”

There are many stories we can use to define our own lives––stories of success, failure, achievement, luck, ancestry, occupation, or family system.

But above it all, there is a story that unites us with each other, those who have come before, and those will come after. Above it all, we are “those whom God brought up out of the house of slavery.”

God has set us free from the stories that drag us down as well as the stories that puff us up. We are not slaves to our successes, failures, achievements, luck, ancestry, occupation or family system. We are the ones who have been set free for one single reason: that God would use us to set others free.

May we always remember that we are slaves who have been set free. May we keep our eyes open to those who are suffering in the world today. May we see them with the eyes of Moses, for even though we may be reluctant or doubtful that God can accomplish such great good through us, God most certainly can and will. That is true freedom.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Rolf Jacobson quote from the online article “Commentary on Exodus 1:6-22; 15:20–6:8” at www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id-1086

Terrence Fretheim quote from Exodus (Interpretation commentary series), page 18.

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