13 September 2020

SUNDAY — September 13

In the Holy and Blessed Name of God
who has created and is creating
who has redeemed and is redeeming
who has mended the broken and is making all things new
be glory and honor and thanksgiving and praise
now and forevermore.

O God, make haste to deliver us.
Make haste to help us, O God.

Holy One, Holy and Almighty, Holy Immortal
to you our worship we raise.

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open
all desires known
and from you nothing is hid:
Cleaning the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit
that we may perfectly worship you
and worthily magnify your Name.

Scripture Text — Exodus 14 (Selected Verses) — The Story of the Exodus
Then YHWH spoke to Moses, “Tell the Israelites that they are to turn back and set up camp by the sea... Pharaoh will think, ‘They are wandering around confused and hemmed in by the desert.’ I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he pursues you. Then I will glorify myself at the expense of the ruler and the army. And the Egyptians will know that I am YHWH.” 
The Israelites did as God told them. When the ruler of Egypt learned that the people had fled, he and his followers changed in their feelings toward them. “What have we done,” they exclaimed, “allowing the Israelites to leave our service?” So Pharaoh ordered the chariots harnessed and with an army of 600 of the best chariots and all the other chariots in Egypt, with warriors on them, pursued the Israelites even as they made their triumphant escape. 
The Egyptians gave chase—the whole army, with horses, chariots, and charioteers—and caught up with them as they lay encamped by the sea. 
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back and saw the Egyptians pursuing them, and cried out in terror to God. They turned on Moses, asking, “Were there no graves in Egypt that you must lead us out to die in the desert? What have you done to us? Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Didn’t we tell you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone. Let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better to work for the Egyptians than to die here in the desert!” 
But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid! Stand your ground, and you will see the victory YHWH will win for you today. Though you see Egypt today, you will never see it again. YHWH will do the fighting for you; you have only to keep still!” 
Then YHWH said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to march on. And you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea, and split the sea in two, that the Israelites may pass through it on dry land. I will make the hearts of the Egyptians so stubborn that they will come in after you, and I will glorify myself at the expense of Pharaoh and all the army, chariots and charioteers. The Egyptians will know that I am YHWH, when I glorify myself over Pharaoh and his chariots and charioteers.”
Then the angel of God, who was leading the Israelites, moved to their rear—the pillar of cloud left the front of their number and took up position behind them, between the Israelites and the Egyptians. 
All during the night the cloud provided light to one side and darkness to the other side, so that there was no contact between them. Then Moses stretched his hand over the sea, and YHWH swept the sea with a strong east wind throughout the night and so turned it into dry land. When the water was thus divided, the Israelites marched into the midst of the sea on dry land, with the water walled up on their right and on their left. 
The Egyptians followed in pursuit; all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and charioteers went after them into the midst of the sea. At dawn, YHWH looked down upon the Egyptian forces from the column of fiery cloud, and threw the army into confusion and panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they could hardly turn. 
The Egyptians turned to flee from the Israelites, saying ”Their God fights for them against us!” Then YHWH told Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, and let the water flow back upon the Egyptians, over their chariots and their charioteers.” So at sunrise, Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the waters rolled back in. As the Egyptians fled, YHWH hurled them into its midst. As the water flowed back, covering the chariots and the charioteers—Pharaoh’s whole army, who had followed the Israelites into the sea—not one of them survived. But the Israelites passed through, walking dry-shod in the sea, with the water like a wall, on their right and on their left. Thus YHWH saved Israel on that day from the power of Egypt. When Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the seashore 31 and beheld the great power that YHWH had shown against them, the people held YHWH in awe; and put their faith in YHWH and in Moses, God’s trusted servant.
—Priests for Equality. The Inclusive Bible. Sheed & Ward.

Psalm For The Day — Exodus 13-15 selected verses)
“To you, O God, I sing:
you have triumphed powerfully;
horse and charioteer
you have flung into the sea!
Who is like you
majestic in holiness,
awesome and praiseworthy
You stretched out your hand
and the earth swallowed them up.
You led your redeemed people
with your unfailing love. 
With your strength you guided them
to your holy pasture.
“Sing to YHWH
who has triumphed gloriously,
who has flung horse and rider
into the sea!”
YHWH will reign
forever and ever!”
Priests for Equality. The Inclusive Bible. Sheed & Ward. 

The story of the the Israelites being freed from their Egyptian oppressors is one of those narratives that we enjoy reading and talking about. God reaches out to the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the homeless people of Israel and brings them from slavery to freedom.

And, as we read this story, we are often quick to write ourselves into the storyline seeing a likeness we share with the Hebrew people. We cheer them on and ourselves among them. We celebrate and sing the song of Miriam. The words flow from our lips almost without second thought. It is such a familiar thing. Time and again we have done this.

But, today is a different time. Easily slipped into practices and rehearsals that place us in the camp of the Israelites won't cut it today. In our world and nation, the version of the interpretation and understanding has been discarded like filthy garment. Gone are the days when America is thought to be the new Israel, the people whom God set free and brought to a new land. 

Sadly, we are anything but that. From the earliest days of the migration unto these shores, the Red Sea has been reddened in blood. It was in brutality and horrific warfare that we brought to this nation. Indigenous people were considered less than human. We slaughtered them, nearly wiping them out.

Then we raped Africa, forcing countless people into slavery. Again, seeing the ones that we oppressed and exploited as less than human. All sense of honor and dignity was withheld and enforced with cruelty and assault. Out of this we built a government and a society that from day one was set against anyone but the white Europeans who took upon themselves the role of enslaver and tyrant. That is who we are: the despot, dominator, overlord, slave driver, taskmaster. And to be perfectly honest, when we achieved that place in history it only served to do likewise to those among us that were seen as weak or vulnerable. Our original sin is the way we refuse to see others as being equally created by God, in God's likeness. We close our eyes and focus on our own selfish sense of desire and needs, all at the cost of dehumanizing others and being their bane.

So, as I read this story today — comfortable in my world of systemic racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and ableism — I know that the people we need to identify with are not the Israelites, but the Pharoah and his army. We are the ones who need to drown in the waters of baptism, having what has been annihilated so that what will be can be born. Our chariot wheels are clogged and heavy laden with greed, consumerism, conservative attempts of maintaining a status quo. Our confusion and disorientation is the history that forgets the facts but creates a narrative wherein being male, white, and wealthy is a prosperity given to us by the God whom we think is cheering us on and wooing us into the American dream.

Nonetheless, the reality could not be more different. Rather than celebrating our brokenness, God has given us the wisdom and understanding to discern what is true and what is not.

Truth be told, we are a sinking ship without rescue boats, floatation vests, or the ability to swim. All we have is our daily grind of tossing others overboard in hopes of making the ship lighter and thus sinking more slowly, or perhaps not at all. And, it is the minorities, the at risk, vulnerable people that we dispose of. To be a person of color, a person who identifies as LGBTXQ, a person of female gender, a person with a disability, a person poor and homeless, a person forgotten and has fallen through the cracks is to be one who can identify with the Israelites in this story of exodus.

Meanwhile, we Egyptians really need to change our ways of being, thinking, and acting in self-preservation and acquiescent brokenness. May we with ears hear. May we with minds understand. May we with hearts love. May we in peace and justice make all equal and in equity of relationship. For such is redemption.

PRAYERS (Gathered from Resources of the United Church of Christ)

O God, who would fold both heaven and earth in a single peace:
Let the design of your great love lighten upon the waste of our wraths and sorrows:
and give peace to your Church, peace among nations,
peace in our dwellings, and peace in our hearts.

Grant us, O God, a vision of your world as your love would have it:
a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor;
a world where the riches of creation are shared, and everyone can enjoy them;
a world where different races and cultures live in harmony and mutual respect;
a world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love.
Give us the inspiration and courage to build it.

Almighty God, you have given all peoples one common origin, and your will is to gather them as one family in yourself. Fill the hearts of all with the fire of your love and the desire to ensure justice for all our sisters and brothers. By sharing the good things you give us, may we secure justice and equality for every human being, and a human society built on love and peace.

For all those who have fallen victim to hatred and inhumanity, for those loved ones who are left behind to mourn, for the souls of those whose hearts are cold.
O God, hear our prayer.
For the children who are being born into this world of conflict and violence, for women and mothers who suffer needlessly.
O God, hear our prayer.
For all those who have been forced into unemployment, who long to return to work, for all those who struggle to support their families.
O God, hear our prayer.
For the soldiers who are misguided in thinking that their bullets will bring about peace, for those who feel called to conscientiously object to military orders.
O God, hear our prayer.
For the children who cry in their beds at night and wonder “what have I done?”
For the mothers and fathers who must try to explain the unexplainable.
O God, hear our prayer.
For all the children who have died before their time, for the soldiers who allow their uniform to strip them of their humanity, for the healers who are denied the opportunity to use their gifts.
O God, hear our prayer.
For the redemption of souls of both victim and perpetrator, for those who commit themselves to the forgiveness of sins.
O God, hear our prayer.

O God,
Open our eyes that we may see the needs of others;
Open our ears that we may hear their cries;
Open our hearts that we may feel their anguish and their joy.
Let us not be afraid to defend the oppressed, the poor, the powerless, because of the anger and might of the powerful.
Show us where love and hope and faith are needed, and use us to bring them to those places.
Open our ears and eyes, our hearts and lives, that we may in these coming days be able to do some work of justice and peace for you.