• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

How God Leads Us

Exodus, How God Moves Us, week 1 of 4 Four week Fall series from the book of Exodus

Preached September 6, 2020 for the 9:30am Worship


Context

Last week, we finished our Not So Minor Prophets series. Today, we start something new.

Caitlan and I are returning to the Revised Common Lectionary, a worldwide suggestion of four Scripture readings for each Sunday that many churches follow. This September, Caitlan and I have chosen the Old Testament lectionary readings from Exodus, and we are calling this series, Exodus, How God Moves Us.


We enter the Exodus story at chapter 12. For over 400 years the Israelites have been in Egypt. God has heard their cries and lifted up Moses to lead the people out. Pharaoh is resisting, and God is increasing the pressure on Pharaoh with plague after plague. In today’s lectionary reading, we hear the 7th plague, the one our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate as Passover, the one that finally made Pharaoh relent.


I’ve selected about 20 or so verses of the 50 plus in the chapter, in hopes the ones I read for us today will tell us the wider story.


Let’s pray and listen for the word of the Lord…


Prayer


Scripture Exodus 12

12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: … 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family … the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter (their lamb) at twilight. 7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. ... It is the Passover of the Lord. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will strike down every firstborn in the people of Egypt…


14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. 15 and for seven days you shall eat only unleavened bread;


21 Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and told this to them…


26 And when the children ask, ‘What does it mean when we do this?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the Lord, for God passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared us.’” And the people bowed down and worshiped God. 28 The Israelites went and did just as the Lord had commanded through Moses and Aaron.


29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who sat in the dungeon… there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a family without someone dead.


31 Then Pharoah summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, “Get up, get away from me and my people, you and all the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord, as you said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. But leave a blessing on me too!”


33 The Egyptian people (also) rushed the Israelites to hurry and leave Egypt…


40 The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years….


42 That was for the Lord a night of vigil, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. That same night is a vigil to be kept for the Lord by all the Lord’s people throughout all their generations.


(This is the word of the Lord… Thanks be to God!)


Sermon How God Leads Us

The Israelites had once been invited to Egypt as guests and fed through a famine from the storehouses of Pharaoh. Joseph, an Israelite, had saved the people of Egypt with his wise farming and economic advice to Pharaoh. Pharaoh repaid Joseph by welcoming Joseph’s people, the Israelites as guests, during a famine.


Then came a Pharaoh who did not know the history of Egypt and Israel helping one another. That Pharaoh and the Pharaohs after him enslaved the Israelites.


Remember the story of Moses in a basket? Why did Moses’ mother have to put him in a basket in the river? Pharaoh had ordered every male child of the Israelites to be killed, to prevent them from growing up, and rising up against Pharaoh’s oppression.


God saw how Egypt treated the people of Israel, and how Pharaoh killed the males of Israel. God heard their cries and protected and guided Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt.


God and Moses tried to change the heart of Pharaoh and of Egypt. But Pharaoh’s heart was too hard, and the people of Egypt enjoyed the labor of the Israelites too much.


So God called together the Israelites and gave them these instructions. Make sure every family has meat to eat tonight. These were not wealthy families, but God wanted to make sure every household had one big meal. Eat well tonight because the journey is long, and you’ll need a good meal to sustain you.


God told them not to leaven their bread. There would be no time to wait for it to rise. You will need to act fast when the time comes. You will need bread for the journey, but you will not be able to wait, so don’t leaven your bread anymore, and be ready to go.


When its time to make the big change that is needed to bring justice and peace, this God is very involved.


This God sees. This God sees the pain when people are broken or divided. This God sees the damage years of oppression and violence do to all the people involved, oppressors and oppressed alike. This God sees how unfair treatment of some by others hurts everyone.


This God plans. This God plans a path from oppression to freedom, from dominance or submission to equity, from abuser and abused to peace.


This God provides. To make a change this big is a long journey, and this God provides the meal on the front end to encourage taking the first steps, and bread to sustain all along the way.


This God remembers. This God remembers the pain of those who came before us. This God remembers what happened long ago, remembers who did it, who cheered it, who allowed it, who ignored it, and who suffered from it. This God remembers what one nation or group of people did and do to another, and does not forget.


This God instructs us. Sometimes God’s instructions are practical. Eat a big meal tonight. Don’t wait for the bread to rise. Other times, God’s instructions are symbolic. Mark your house with a sign for all to see that you are obedient to God, that you are willing to take the risk of freedom, justice, and peace. This God wants public, visible displays of our obedience and commitment.


And last, this God will force the healthy change if humans do not embrace it willingly. On this night long ago, there was violence again. In this story, the violence happened to those in charge, in power. That had not happened before. The way the scriptures tell it, God’s destroyer went through and took the firstborn of every Egyptian. The Israelites had lost their children many times over the last 400 years, but on this night new things happened, the children of the Egyptians were taken.


The God we know in Jesus the Christ does not take others’ lives but sacrifices his own. While the scripture was written down in a way to say God killed the firstborn of Egypt, I struggle to reconcile that God, the destroyer, with the God we worship in Jesus the Christ, who allowed himself to be destroyed to save all the world, and Jesus taught us that they are the same God. So I cannot say God killed the Egyptians.


I wonder who the source of the violence was that night. I cannot agree the violence was from God or of God or sanctioned by God, and I cannot condone the violence. But I wonder why Pharaoh and Egypt had to have it go that far to finally see, hear, and believe this God sees, plans, leads, instructs, and WILL bring all things around to freedom, justice, and peace.


For any of us who may be suffering in these days, or may not yet be aware of the suffering of others around us, may this story reveal to us a God who sees, knows, plans, provides, guides, and is bringing the healthy change we all need. May this story soften our hearts, and give us hope.


To God be all glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.


Benediction

Now, Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forevermore.


Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown

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In 2002, I left my corporate career, and went to seminary. Since 2005, I've been serving churches, and trying to follow Jesus, and lead others in doing the same...

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