Rev. Dr Barb Hedges-Goettl
The book of Exodus, telling the story of the freeing of God’s people from slavery, begins about four hundred years after the story of Joseph, saying: “Now a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” This new king, as you may recall, feels threatened by the Hebrew people who have grown great in numbers, and he seeks to subdue them. He enslaves them and then embarks on a campaign to break them by increasing their workload and punishments. When this doesn’t work, he orders that all newborn Hebrew male babies be drowned in the river.
This is when Moses’ mother puts him in a basket and floats him down that same river, where the pharaoh’s daughter rescues him. She even hires Moses’ mother to be his wet nurse! After he is raised by the daughter of the pharaoh, Moses kills an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite-a death penalty crime. He flees to Midian, where he marries Zipporah. Through the miracle of the burning bush, God calls Moses to return to Israel to free the Hebrew people from slavery. But Pharaoh does not listen to Moses, and Egypt is subjected to nine plagues: the water was turned to blood; then there were frogs, lice, flies, diseased livestock, boils, a thunderstorm of hail, locusts and darkness for three days. And now, as described in today’s passages about the Passover, the tenth plagues: the death of the firstborn of all living things.
This particular plague echoes the killing of all of the male children of the Hebrews ordered by the pharaoh. By the deaths of the firstborn among the people and the animals, God upends the power of pharaoh. By passing over the houses of the Hebrew people marked by the blood of the Lamb, God indicates who his people are. And the pharaoh finally (momentarily) relents and lets God’s people go only to try to chase them down to bring them back, resulting in the drowning of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea.
Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper, depicted in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke as taking place at the time of the Passover, resound loudly here. Jesus takes the role of the Passover Lamb, providing the blood that makes God pass over our sins.
The upshot of both the story of the Exodus, and of Jesus at the Last Supper, is that God is the God of freedom. God is about the business of freeing God’s people. That freedom is not limited to people’s spirits, but includes freeing people from all kinds of oppression.
God stopped the genocide of the Hebrew people and then freed them from their oppression. God demands justice for those who do not have power: for the widows, the orphans, the strangers, the poor. God takes action on the side of the oppressed against the powerful, confronting those who sit in power.
While the phrase “speaking truth to power” was part of the Quaker call to non-violence in the 1950s, you could say this is something the prophets have done all along—and it is what Moses did when he said, “Let my people go.”
Belonging to God means serving as God’s voice, joining Moses in saying, “Let my people go,” raising up issues of oppression and injustice wherever they arise. Serving God means serving, as Jesus said, “the least of these.”
How do we serve God by serving the least of these?
Serving starts by listening
(When Len was in his first pastorate, we got a phone call from a lady who said “Is this the pastor who listens?”—a feat so rare that it brought a stranger to us via the telephone.
Listening means that I do not tell you what your experience is
I let you tell me what your experience is
The fact that it’s different from mine reinforces that it’s your experience
Listening means I don’t necessarily try to solve your problem, esp. if that is not what you are asking me to do. Listening may just mean—listening.
That’s a hard one for me—our kids know if they want a list of suggestions, call Mom. If you want someone to just listen, call Dad.
Can I say, “Do you want to know what I think?” and accept if the person says no?
A Korean-born friend of mine recently (once again) went through a set of circumstances in which she was ignored
The professional accomplishments she reported were not included in the newsletter
The gift from the company for those working at home was not sent to her house
The donations list put down her donation as 1/5 of what she’d given
And while she has been asked to serve on her company’s committee to address racism, she feels, especially in light of her experiences, that this means she is being asked to solve something over which she has no power.
But when she raises this list of occurrences, she is told that these are just details and that nothing was meant by it. She is, essentially, told that her experience is not valid; that no one wants to hear it and she should get over it.
But the devil is in those details
The very act of dismissing her experience is itself oppressive
The inability to hear her pain is itself an indication of how far astray the system has gone
We didn’t mean it, so you shouldn’t be hurt
But if they didn’t mean it, why don’t they fix it? Why don’t they change things?
When we are little, we are taught,
what do you say when you hurt someone?
And, even more so, what do you say when you hurt someone accidentally?
But we can’t, we don’t, do it
Instead we tell the one who is hurt
that they are wrong, they aren’t hurt,
that it doesn’t count,
that it doesn’t or shouldn’t matter,
that they are making a stink over nothing,
that they should get over it,
that they should say it better, differently, at another time, to another person because right now we just want them keep quiet, to shut up, about it.
When we do these things, how can we argue that we are on God’s side?
How do we (better) serve
the God who hears the people’s cry,
the God who frees his people?
For all God’s people to be free, we should listen to all God’s people
Instead of pre-judging your experience to make it fit what I already think,
I can listen–
I can listen—we can listen even when we don’t want to hear
Actually, that is the most important time to listen
Because it means we are being told something
we won’t discover on our own,
because we don’t/can’t/won’t see it.
God calls the Israelites to remember
to celebrate Passover
to teach the children
to be compassionate to the strangers among them
Being compassionate to those who are hurting means listening
When someone talks about sexual abuse or sexual harassment
we can listen
When someone talks about the challenges and problems of police work
we can listen
When someone talks about police brutality and oppression,
we can listen
When someone talks about being white in America,
we can listen
When someone talks about being a minority in America,
we can listen
When someone talks about being sick, we can listen.
When someone talks about being old, we can listen.
When someone talks about being poor, we can listen
When someone talks about what they need, we can listen.
No, really, we can!
In addition to listening, I am doing some little thin.
One of the things I am doing is wearing my new justice T-shirts
In support of black people who are experiencing racism
When I’m deciding whether or not I want to wear those T-shirts,
I realize, isn’t it nice to be able to decide?
Aren’t I privileged that I can decide that today I don’t want to deal
with injustice, with equal rights, with standing up for others
People of color don’t get to choose not to deal today
Every day, everywhere they go, racism may greet them
But I can decide I just don’t want to go there today
When I say I am doing “little things,” in part what I mean is
that I have found some things I can do and I am doing them.
I am doing these little things to try to make the world better.
And if lots and lots of people do little things, they add up…
After you have listened, find one little thing to do in solidarity with others
And do it.
Because, like my Asian friend noted,
Racism has to be solved by everyone
And especially by those for whom race isn’t usually an issue
In solidarity with those who don’t get to choose if today they want to go there/be there/address this or not
And the God of freeing the slaves in Israel be with you and empower you.
Let us pray…