Pastor’s Friday Comments (06.07.19)

This week our men’s breakfast group read again the story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage as told by Sean Gladding in The Story of God, the Story of Us. In a creative way that is nonetheless faithful to the text, Gladding reminds us of the events through which God’s people were delivered from slavery and set on their journey to the Promised Land. It’s a story that is full of violence, and of hard questions, such as why God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that he refused to let God’s people go.

The part of the story that struck me as having extreme contemporary relevance is near the end, when the fictional narrator (a stand-in for Gladding, I assume) speaks about the need for a new exodus. The narration is set during another exile, the captivity in Babylon, as the people long for another deliverance. Here is part of what he says:

The problem is not that our people are in exile in Babylon; the problem is that all of creation is in exile — east of Eden, far removed from the goodness of the garden. Babylon is just the latest expression of what lies at the heart of the problem: humanity’s fear, our need to make a name for ourselves, the violence we do to each other and to all of creation in order to secure a future for ourselves, instead of trusting the God of creation to provide. We need a new exodus from sin. An exodus that not only frees the oppressed from being oppressed, but that also frees the oppressors from being oppressors.

At this point, we might take the necessary step of placing ourselves inside the story. It’s too easy to identify with the Israelites, since, as the New Israel, Christians see themselves as the spiritual successors to the children of Abraham. The fact, however, is that as privileged Americans we are far more likely to be in the position of the oppressor than being dominated by anyone else.

Consider for a moment what it might mean for you to be delivered from your role as an oppressor of others. Would it change your buying habits, the way you treat the environment, your relationship with those who work for you or those who are your neighbors? The answers lie between you and God, but you won’t get the answers if you don’t ask the questions.

Near the end of the chapter Gladding has a section related to the reason God delivered the Israelites from Egypt and why they needed delivering from Babylon, but he clearly has in mind our modern situation:

But God not only wanted to get God’s people out of Egypt, God also wanted to get Egypt out of them — its stories rooted in fear and greed, power and prestige, idolatry and ideology. We also have been deeply shaped by the stories of Egypt, the stories of Babylon, the stories of empire. That is why we must keep telling the Story of God to each other, to remind ourselves who we are and to help us resist the power and attraction of those other stories, and break the hold they have over us.

Isn’t that the mission of the church today — to keep telling God’s story so we don’t continue to get caught up in the stories of the empire in which we are living? As Gladding concludes: “The story of the exodus is also a cautionary tale. Pharaoh’s oppressive power was legitimized by the priests and maintained by the military. When the oppressed cry out, God declares, ‘I will hear.’ We must not become like the pharaoh, because God acts against people like the pharaoh.”

If you want a historical perspective on the state of our society today, you would do well to read the story of Israel as a cautionary tale and make sure you are not only on the right side of history, but on the right side of God.