Saturday, 27 September 2014

Old, old story

Exodus 14:10-14;21-29
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. 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 went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

As you know, the Bible Readings we are looking at in church this autumn are taking us into the ancient stories from the Old Testament.
Although we can only read a snippet each week, we are being reminded of the story of God's people, the heroes and the villains. And the readings must rank as the first ever Horrible Histories.
On Friday, I spent some time with the Primary 4s at Forehill Primary School, talking about Passover. For the past few weeks, during RE, they have been learning about Moses.
About how he had to be hidden when he was born because the king had ordered that all boy children born to Israelite women must be killed - because they were becoming too many in number and might one day decide to rebel and overwhelm their overseers.
The two midwives who cared for Moses mother, however defied the king and let him live.
But he had to be hidden away.
Moses mother decided that she would make him a basket and float him in the river, hoping that one of the Egyptian women might rescue him and care for him when she couldn't hide him any longer.
They learned how it was, in fact, the princess who found him and had him taken to the Royal palace where he was brought up.
They told me the part of Moses story where he was out tending to his sheep when God spoke to him from a burning bush and called Moses to rescue his people from slavery in Egypt.
And they took great delight in telling me about all the plagues God sent on Egypt to persuade the Pharaoh to let the people go.
Plagues of locusts, of boils, of frogs, of water turning into blood - all of which convinced the Pharaoh that he should give the people their freedom - until, every time, he changed his mind.
So my job was to tell them about the final plague that God sent.
The one where the eldest child would be killed unless the blood of a lamb was painted over the door of a house.
That finally persuaded the king to let the Hebrew slaves leave.
It was called Passover because the angel of death passed over the houses painted with the blood of the lamb. 
And the p4s already knew the next bit of the story - the bit we read today - where the slaves were escaping and the Egyptians tried to get them back. There was a huge sea between the slaves and freedom. When God's people tried to cross it, the waters parted and they crossed in safety. But when the Egyptians went after them the waters flowed back and drowned them.
The story of Moses in 30 seconds!
It's the sort of story that the eight and nine year olds to whom I spoke on Friday just love.
Full of blood and gore.
And that was a tamed down version!  
There were some fascinating questions.
One of which was: Why do we still read these stories today? 
Good question!
In trying to explain something of the Passover to the children, I talked a lot about how Jewish children, from earliest days learn the stories of faith - and especially this story - the story of when Gods people were freed from slavery and travelled to their own land - a journey that took a long time, that had many setbacks along the way, but a journey in which they became established as the people of God, laying down markers, setting up traditions, discovering the God who gave them life.
In the Passover meal, this story is told and symbolised over and over again, so that it should never be forgotten and so that it can be handed on from one generation to another.
But why do we still celebrate these stories?
Why are they still important to our faith?
I'm not sure that I want to follow a God such as that depicted here or in similar stories that describe God interacting with people.
A God who takes sides.
A God who rescues some people and allows others to drown.
Although such a God might well suit our government and world leaders today as we are dragged into more and more conflict, this is not the nature of God.
A God not of war but of peace.
A God not of hatred but of love.
In these ancient stories, folk were trying to fathom God.
Trying to work out the nature of God and the relationship that humans might know with such a God.
Like every human discovery, the nature of God's interaction with human beings has been revised and refined with fresh insight as time moves on and as circumstances change.
God is continually reaching out to us, trying to reveal to us how we might enjoy the intimacy of a relationship based on love.
I saw one of those Facebook memes this week that said: Jesus is God's selfie.
A bit cheesy perhaps - but helpful in our understanding of who God is.
It is by looking at how Jesus reveals God that we might get a picture that is more helpful for us in embracing faith today.
Jesus revealed God as a God who would hang out, not with the in crowd but with those marginalised in our communities today.
Not taking sides - but certainly being more comfortable with the poor and the homeless, with those on benefits than with those in government.
More at home in our kitchens than in our front rooms.
A God who journeys with those who take risks - whether that risk is in the daily fight for survival or whether the risk is in putting our hope in a God who is constantly being redefined in relationship with people today and yet whose faithfulness is for every time and generation.
That is why the ancient stories are important.
They speak of a journey.
A journey undertaken by the people of God through the ages as they come to know the love of God in every age. 
And for us today, rediscovering that God involves us being prepared to risk.
To risk putting on hold what we think we know.
To risk leaving the security of the things we hold on to.
To risk putting our toe in the water to see where God leads us.
To risk travelling light into the future that God has for us.
Some of us are ready to take those risks.
Some of us are too busy holding on to hurts and grudges or even memories of how things were, things that hold us back from moving forward into the path of God for now.
God is revealed to us in new ways every day.
If we're too busy looking back, we'll miss that fresh insight.
We'll miss those new horizons that await.
We will miss the promised land and repeat the pattern of the slaves freed from Pharaoh's oppressive regime in Egypt, wandering about in circles In the wilderness, afraid to risk stepping out onto unfamiliar paths, taking new directions.
The ancient stories are not told to keep us in a time warp.
But to free us to be the people of God today.
Developing a new relationship with a God who loves us and leads us down dark alley ways and through scary places to discover that we have what it takes today to stand up to injustice and oppression, to speak,out against evil, to say "Not in my name" when our government leads us into war. 
We are free to stand up and be counted , a force to be reckoned with, living out and passing on faith to a new generation.
"Tell him of his baptism, unfold to him the treasure he has been given today"
Those are vows not just for our new parents this morning but for all of us as we go forward in an ancient faith made new every morning.
Thanks be to God.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

I love the connection with baptism. Thank you, Liz, for inspiration, again!