Monday, September 11, 2017

Whose Side, Which Side?

Exodus 12, The Passover
Chatfield UMC
September 10, 2017
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

This particular story of the scriptures is called the story of the Passover. It is an ancient story that is one of the central stories of the Jewish faith. It is a story about how the gods of ancient times did not have the power of the God of Moses.
It is a story about how the God of Moses, frees people from oppression. Frees people from their plight of being controlled by evil and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves.

It is NOT a story about a vindictive god who sends plagues and death to punish.

It is about how if you chose to support a system that oppresses others, abuses power, builds edifices to your own glory you could lose your first born to disaster, you will decimate the land and create environmental chaos, your livelihood, that you thought was so secure, will be threatened, whether by economic collapse, environmental disasters or family dysfunction.

This is a story about liberation from oppression, enslavement and injustice.

And it is a story that asks the question of us: do we want to be on the side of the powerful or the side of the liberated?

And of course, we will say, we want to be on the side of the liberated. NO way would we want to be the cause of environmental destruction and plagues of locusts. We recycle, we buy energy efficient light bulbs and appliances, we would do more if we could.
And, hopefully, we recognize that we are a part of the degradation of the world’s ecology. We hopefully, recognize that every time we drive our car or truck, we are complicit in the increased intensity of the storms we are seeing. And knowing that we can be more careful about the ways we consume fossil fuel. We can be more careful to live simply so that others can simply live.

And we can be careful about the ways we talk about these natural disasters. It is not one thing or the other. It is everything together. It is not God subjecting certain places in the world to judgement for whatever reason, even the reason of building along the ocean shore. Even though that does seem a bit foolhardy.
I remember traveling coastal Florida where everyone builds their homes on 10-12 stilts and wondering, why would you risk so much for that? It seemed foolhardy to me. But then I couldn’t afford it anyway so who knows what I would do if I could????
But people aren’t getting punished by God or what they deserve for building near the ocean, they are simply accepting the risks.
Just as those who chose not to evacuate are not being punished by God.

I was asked this week if I thought the increase in natural disasters, the earthquakes, the floods, the fires, the hurricanes, was a sign of the return of Jesus? Apparently, there is that concern among some people. That we are in the end times. That this all means that Jesus is coming back soon. That God is getting ready to come and destroy it all for the sake of God’s coming?

And I said, well no, not in that way. God is coming, Jesus is coming back but not in that vengeful, judging way.
The hurricanes, fires, floods and earthquakes are causing Jesus to come back, but not to destroy the earth, but to heal the earth. Every time we read a story of someone going out of their way to help a victim rebuild their lives, or get out of the way of danger, or of rescue, we are seeing the hands and feet of Jesus. We are seeing the coming of Jesus among us. This is how Jesus comes back and this is how liberation works. This is how we stand up to evil. By being the hands and feet of Jesus.

We want to be on the side of the liberated. We don’t want to be on the side of evil and oppression.
We don’t want to sacrifice our first born just to prove that some god doesn’t have power over us.
That is what was at stake in the Passover story. Whose god is stronger. The god of the powerful or the God of the oppressed.

And this is where it gets really tricky. We want to be on the side of God, the God of Moses. But that means we have to be on the side of the oppressed. Which means our own needs must be looked at through the lens of the needs of the community. The whole community. Not just those who have the power but those who are at the mercy of the systems.

I was so thrilled when the school referendum passed this last year. You know, it is hard for me because I don’t pay taxes so I don’t want to and I really can’t advocate for passing of anything that impacts tax bills. However, I was on the planning commission and it was clear to me that in order for our children to have the best environment for learning, upgrades needed to be done. The school was in dire need of modernization and efficiency.
But, I know, that that means people without children will have to pay more without getting ‘anything back’. Except for a better educated citizenship and more educated people who will take care of us in our old age. Except for better property values when our school system is one of the top ones in the area. Except for the satisfaction of seeing how you have been a part of the lives of our little ones as they grow into the person God created them to be.
How easy is it to sacrifice our children without even realizing we are doing it. To think of our own needs because we no longer have children. To concern ourselves with our own bottom line because we want a better car or house or coffee or tickets to a game…
And now we are waiting with baited breath to see if children who have been here most of their lives will be abandoned by their homeland and set back to a place they never knew.
The scriptures are very clear, we are to be on the side of the oppressed. We are to be those who give aid and safety to the sojourner to the immigrant to the stranger among us.

You know that is how it was in Egypt before. The Hebrew people were welcomed into the land. They became the farmers, the builders, the engineers… But then the powers that be became frightened of the Hebrew people. They were worried that they would become too many. Would take over or something like that.
The Hebrew people are the ones who were building the infrastructure of the Pharaoh’s empire. The houses, graves and streets, working in the fields, growing the crops. Much like immigrants in America today. They were the ones keeping the economy growing and keeping food on the tables.
And yet, the Pharaoh, in all his power was afraid of them.
And oppressed them greatly.

And God rescued the Hebrew people out of the hands of their oppressor.

So, which side will we chose? The side of the powerful or the side of the oppressed? Will we work to oppose evil and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves? Will we align ourselves with Jesus who took on the call to
Liberate the captive, to free the oppressed, to give recovery of sight to the blind and to proclaim that all can live in the freedom of God’s kindom. On earth as it is in heaven.

Which side?