Sunday Sermon

LEAVING EGYPT

Isaiah 65:17-25; Canticle 9; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-9

“Say therefore to the Israelites, “I am the LORD, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians d deliver you from slavery to them.  I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.  I will take you as my people, and I will be your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians.  I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.”” Moses told this to the Israelites; but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.” Exodus 6:6-9

     A few weeks ago, there was a prophecy by the Prophet Habakkuk that mentioned the promises God made to Israel when God brought them out of Egypt.  I googled the phrase I remembered and traced it back to this one from Exodus 6.  Then I read through Exodus, so I was sure I understood the context.  These promises are made as Israel is leaving Egypt.  The text further states that God led Israel into the Wilderness and not into Philistia because their spirits were broken, and God believed Israel was not up to a fight. The Wilderness story is about healing broken spirits.  The quote from Exodus 6 lays out how God proposes to do this.  Since I have travelled this journey myself, I will lay out for you the way that I experienced it. 

     I needed a champion, someone who believed in me.  Jesus is set up in that role by the gospels, and they make it clear that his role as an advocate did not end with his death. When we are wounded, we need someone who understands our condition, and yet does not let us off the hook.  Moses has that role in Exodus, but I don’t think Jews view Moses as an advocate in the present.  Jesus is an eternal advocate for those who experience themselves as needing God’s help.  We do not come to him for help unless we are ready to make some changes.  He is not there for tea and sympathy but to work on the causes and effects of our wounds to heal us.

     God is clear in the Exodus reading that he will heal both the slavery and the effects of slavery.  God sees that Israel is broken and leads them into the Wilderness to heal.  Events in the Wilderness have to do with that healing.  We might say that God will heal both the addiction and the harm caused by it.  I ran on anger, was explosively angry because I was bullied and hit physically and emotionally as a child.  Someone saw the pictures of my Mother and Brother that I brought to the All Saints celebration, and exclaimed, “They look like good people!”  I barked right back, “They were!” because it was true.  Mom wanted me to obey and she did to me what her Father very likely did to her.  She hated him and said it openly.  Would not talk about him at all, even refused to visit him when we travelled to Austria.  So, think of me as at least the second-generation of child abuse. 

     When you are small, experiencing the fury of an adult is terrifying.  When it was directed at me, I felt deeply threatened.  I spent my early life in fear of taking a wrong step that would get me into trouble.  Anything that struck my Mom as thoughtless, disobedient or defiant would set her off.  Oddly, if I acted too cowed by her, she would hit me for that. It was a form of slavery. Mom isolated us from other families, so we had little experience of how other families interacted. I lived with the anticipation of being punished for almost anything. 

     We all know that leaving Egypt is only the beginning of the journey to emotional health and stability.  I needed stories like the Exodus story to break free of the oppression that I have faced.  I also understand that believing in a loving God who heals us in this world is quite a stretch. It was not long before I discovered that I had packed my problems when I left home and brought them along.  I felt a need for freedom then that has defined my life.  I have always had big dreams and have been very reluctant to give them up.  I chose to believe in a God who loves and will help me when I needed it and later came to believe in that God because of the help that I received.  I believed, rather than give up on my dreams of a healthy life.  I think of the Bible as that story that tells us about a God who loves and saves us while helping us to realize our dreams.

     I went looking for the Exodus reading at the head of this sermon because a reference was made to the promises that God made Israel when they left slavery in Egypt.  I wanted to know what those promises were.  I was surprised to find that I have seen all those promises fulfilled in my life.  No one has the power to remove either a promise made by God or its fulfillment.  I will carry my story of freedom with me forever.

     My Mom, despite her scary domination, had me front and center in Church every Sunday where I could hear these stories of freedom repeated year by year.  The way out was in front of me all the time.  I only needed to engage with it.  What about those people who never heard about a loving God who saves us?  

     Every problem that I had with relationships I also had in the relationship with God.  I worked those problems out one day at a time with a healthy parent in prayer, meditation and study.  I learned to curb my rebelliousness and keep the commandments for my own sake, because they set good boundaries for my behavior.  I learned to let go of the damage done by abuse and began to build new and better relationships with everyone.  I became as close to Mom as she would let me.  I left behind the frightened little girl and became bold enough to do what I really wanted to do.  I claimed my vocation and became a priest.  I discovered that my early life prepared me well to stand up to bullies as an adult.  That which had crippled me became an asset, and I have used it to help me as a leader in the Church.  The last is key to knowing that I have crossed over into the Promised Land.  I am free and able to fight for what is important to me.  I know the lay of the land, and what I need to do.  As I left behind much of what defined me as a child, I prayed to know my strengths and weaknesses.  I began to take charge of both.  Being in possession of myself helped me to grow up in my own estimation.  It has been years since I disappointed myself by falling back to old habits, old resentments.  

     It takes this much work to recover from slavery.  The largest part of this work was done since 1978.  In 2018 I had been working to free myself for 40 years, the exact amount of time Israel spent in the Wilderness.  Wilderness time is good for experiencing our limits and learning to work with them, for letting go of old hurts and establishing new habits.  Above all it is time to learn about God’s love for us.  I learned from the Rev. Canon Mark Seitz last Sunday that he believes that the Church is undergoing Wilderness time, that those great old days we remember so fondly were not strongly grounded in the gospel call to love our neighbors.  He has great hopes that the Church is renewing itself in this new, smaller shape that works hard to survive and focus on its mission.  He sees churches like St. Peter’s as the future of the Church.  I have been thinking the same thing for quite some time now, but I have learned that it is a very hard sell.  Like the memories that Israel recalled fondly in the Wilderness of the juicy melons and succulent fish of Egypt, memories of the good old days are hard to shake.        

      This story about a God who loves and frees me started me on a journey in which all those listed promises have been fulfilled.  I learned how to pray.  I made the Bible stories my own, and year by year have claimed every promise made by God to God’s faithful people.  When we make God our God other powers lose their hold over us.  Prayer opens and holds the relationship.  Day by day the love of God has been breaking me free.

     At the end of a long journey, in the middle of a full and busy life, I am content, living on the ground that God promised me. Recently I discovered that I had met all the goals I had set for myself. I have seen all the promises made to Israel as it left Egypt fulfilled in my lifetime. 

     With this personal journey as a prologue, lets look at today’s lessons. From Isaiah.  “The former things shall not be remembered or brought to mind.”  I am not that girl who ran away from home and discovered she had packed her oppression and brought it along with her.  The former things are not remembered because God has created me as a delight.  This is your sign that you have arrived in the promised land.  You have made a home in this world and found good work that prospers you.  Your slavery is a thing of the past.  The prophecy goes on, basically outlining the shape of human thriving that we may look for on our journey with God in this life and into the next.  

     Canticle 9 is my song.  “Surely it is God who saves me.  I will trust in him and not be afraid.” It is my job to make God’s deeds known among the peoples.  I remember resolving to myself that I would claim the healing promised in these stories if it could be done.  You know I believe that God’s name deserves to be praised.  I ring out my joy and recommend it to you.

     There will always be some around a Church who are looking for a handout, always wanting something, rarely giving anything.  We try to get along with them.  It’s nice to know the Church has been dealing with this problem since year 1.  St. Paul didn’t tolerate it.  We are to imitate him and not them.  We are never to tire while doing what is right.  It’s good to hear the day after the neighborhood feed.  We will rest up and get back to work.

      In the gospel for today we are given a vision for the last days of the world.  As the Prophet Habakkuk promised a few weeks ago, God always has a vision for the worst of times.  We may trust that vision and live into it.  No earthly event can set aside the promises of God or our hope for the fulfillment of those promises.  Bad times should not deter us. We have been learning right along, and we will always find the reserves of strength to carry on the purposes of God.  Jesus gives a terrible vision of the end time.  His vision tells us indirectly that even these terrible events serve the purposes of God. By our endurance we will gain our souls.    

Sermon for 23 Pentecost 2019 by The Rev. Deborah T. Rankin