Flood waters, liberation & the God who hears our cries

by susan on September 6, 2017

This message was shared during our Sunday gathering on September 3, 2017 & is a response to Exodus 3:1-15.

It’s been a week of intense flooding in Houston & years of battling deadly flooding in other places around the world.

It’s hard to imagine how stuck residents of Houston, of Mumbai India, of Nepal & of Bangladesh must have felt. Unless we’ve been there, we can’t imagine.

Here are some of the calls for help received by Houston rescue workers:

Trapped in attic.
Been on roof since yesterday.
Running out of time.
Bed-bound & paralyzed.
Neck deep in water.

When I heard the helplessness & the fear & the despair, the suffering became real.

While most of us, I pray, will not experience this level of strandedness,
we have sensed the feeling of being trapped, neck-deep in trouble,
desperately running out of time,
alone & unable to move.

To some small degree, I’ve known it. I’ve been stuck in recurring resentment that I can’t seem to shake no matter how many times I pray to let it go. I’ve been stuck with a home we could not afford. I know what it’s like to feel stuck in bad habits like overeating and overextending myself and overanalyzing everything.

I do not know the terrifying feeling of rising waters, but I’ve had a small taste of what it’s like to feel helpless & unable to break free. I bet you have, too.

At the beginning of Exodus, we are introduced to a community of people who were stuck. They were confined to a place where they lived under the tyranny of a leader who no longer knew their ancestors & who was unfamiliar with their God.

This community known as the Hebrew (or Israelite) people believed in the God who moved through old folks like Abraham & Sarah, through barely escaped death teenagers like Isaac and & through stubborn strugglers like Jacob.

Unlike the other ancient gods, this God was a present & relational & persistent God. This God was a Liberator.

These God-fearing Israelites were descendants of Jacob (later named Israel) & had been rescued from famine & brought to Egypt by their ancestor Joseph. They had been brought to a place where they had been told the grass was greener. There, they were growing in number and had become a threat to Pharaoh.

So, Pharaoh decides to limit their growth.

We can almost read Pharaoh’s mind: These Hebrews may be the minority now, but if their growth trend continues, these “foreigners” will outnumber us Egyptians. They will take over. We can’t let that happen!

That fear-driven, self-centered thinking is all too familiar in our nation right now.

So, Pharaoh does two things. First, he subdues the Hebrews. He makes their lives a living hell through forced labor. He treats them like slaves. They become nothing more than tools in Pharaoh’s anxious system of production.

Forced labor, though, does not slow their growth. So Pharaoh does something else. He orders the Hebrew midwives to kill any male Hebrew babies that are born. He initiates a genocide.

These people were suffering at the hands of a dictator & they were stuck. There was no way out.

Even in their stuckness though, God was present. Two miraculous things had already happened: First, heroic Hebrew midwives refused to obey Pharaoh & would not assist him in the baby boy genocide. Second, there was the survival story of a Hebrew boy named Moses. Placed in a basket & floated down the river by his desperate Hebrew mother, Moses ends up getting rescued & raised by none other than Pharaoh’s daughter.

God is already active in the story, but God appears with even more gusto in today’s text.

Moses is tending sheep for his father in law, when suddenly God interrupts.

An angel or messenger from God, a blazing bush which refuses to be destroyed &
then a voice that summons Moses to do something impossible announce God’s presence.

This voice calls Moses by name & says,

“Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

I wonder… What made this ground holy? What made it set apart? Was it because it was a place where God was going to speak? Was it because it was a place where change was coming, a new part of God was going to be revealed? Where a new task was going to be assigned? Is there any ground that isn’t holy?

Whatever it was, Moses is asked to prepare – to take off his sandals – to get comfortable, to stick around because something important was happening here. When’s the last time you took off your sandals? When’s the last time you recognized that something important was being said or shared or that something significant was happening in you or around you or that God was so present that you just needed to stay in this moment & pay attention & really listen?

I’m afraid we don’t do that often enough. I don’t. I’m in a hurry. I rush, but God said take off your shoes, Moses. Something important is going to happen here.

“I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry … I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them.”

Moses is far from home & may be unfamiliar with the suffering there, but God knows. Moses may have detached from the sufferings of his neighbors, but God hasn’t. In fact, God hears their cries & God hears ours, too.

God hears the cries for help & rescue as flood waters rise.
God hears the cries for relief from the roller coaster of depression & anxiety.
God hears the cries of those battling cancer and those battling toxic relationships.

God hears the cries of when we can’t break our harmful habits & when our addictions are breaking us.God hears the cries of people stuck in poverty & peer pressure & physical pain and God hears the cries of all those who long for rescue..

God hears our cries, just like he heard the cries of Israelite slaves in Egypt, and God mounts a rescue operation.

God has a tactic for rescue & the tactic is this:
“So come, Moses, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

I’d be putting my shoes right back on, especially if I were Moses. See, Moses had been on the run from Pharaoh. Moses had a pretty serious anger management issue & it’s so bad that when he saw one of the Hebrew workers being abused back in Egypt, he killed the abuser & buried him in the sand. And murdering Moses has been on the run ever since then. Afraid of Pharaoh, he has fled Egypt & is living in Midian.

Here at the beginning of this story of oppression, we are introduced to God as One who hears the cries of suffering people & has a plan to rescue them.

The plan is to use ordinary people like Moses, people with struggles & sufferings of their own
to be present, to listen, to walk alongside & to lead the journey toward liberation.

And, friends, the way God acted on behalf of these oppressed people is how God relates to us.

God hears our cries, wants to free us & God calls us to be part of the project.

Just like we tend to, Moses has a list of fears & excuses & inadequacies that should disqualify him, but God refuses to write him off; instead, God simply says, I will be with you. In fact the new name he gives to Moses when Moses asks “and whom shall I tell Pharaoh is sending me?” is “I am Who I am,” which is better translated “I Will Be Who I Will Be”.

God will not be held back from responding & adapting & moving beyond any preconceived ideas or structures or stereotypes that may try to keep God confined. At the core of God’s nature is liberation itself!

And so the exodus begins.

God’s long term, long-haul rescue project launches –
with an imperfect leader who was well aware of his inadequacies,
with a people who were formed as slaves & a God who promised to journey with them toward liberation.

What journey toward liberation is God inviting you to be part of?
Is it to break free from a deadly habit or a rut or a rhythm of life that is killing you?
Is it to challenge a system of oppression that’s hurting some of our neighbors – – particularly our black & brown & immigrant & LGBTQ ones?
Is it to be part of this community of freedom-seekers who are re-imagining what it means to be the mobile body of Christ present in our community’s suffering?

God hears our cries & plots liberation. May we have the faith & the courage to join in.

Amen.


Source for art above: “Moses Adores God in the Burning Bush” by a follower of (James) Jacques-Joseph Tissot, French, 1836-1902.

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