For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 8:38-39
For two weeks now, we have been discovering the one theme of the Bible – God’s salvation history of love. We began with paradise when all was perfect but then we followed up with The Fall of Humanity, but very quickly the story moves forward. God has chosen a people, Israel, and today we find ourselves in Egypt, where Israel fled due to famine. That is where our story begins.
This story, like many, creates a hero out of the most unlikely chain of events from an unlikely person. A young mother stands on the banks of a river, in the rushes, and pushes her son in a basket on a whim and a prayer. It is necessary because of the simplest of words that create the most horrifying situation.
When Israel first arrived in Egypt due to famine, they were welcomed. But look what happened overtime as the text tells us, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”
And because of that Pharoah spoke those ominous words, “They are more numerous than us.”
This has been humanity’s eternal challenge and is the grand joy of Pentecost, when people of different races, cultures, and languages come together as one.
In this story, God is in stark contrast with Pharoah. Professor Terence Fretheim, expert on Exodus wrote:
Knowing means more than acquaintance or being informed; it bespeaks a relationship of depth in which there is a commitment to those who are known... The King of Egypt does not know; God knows. This difference in knowing has a profound effect on doing. Not knowing leads to oppression; knowing leads to salvation.
Because “they” were more numerous, Pharoah enslaved the Jews, so God said to Moses:
“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob… I have indeed seen the affliction of My people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their oppressors, and I am aware of their sufferings. I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey…”
Even to this day when the Jews recite these texts they do so as if they personally experienced the Exodus event. In reciting the words, “God delivered us!” this story becomes their story, and when the words “remember you were slaves in the land of Egypt but God delivered you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,” they feel the horror of their history and within their deepest selves, also the power and compassion of God for them.
And so, this event of liberation has become paradigmatic for oppressed peoples everywhere, that Yahweh by nature is a God of liberation, of justice, and of power. Power not only to defeat enemies, but power to re-unite and rebuild.
This summer as Wendy and I spent time in the in the Berkshires, we came across the childhood home of WEB Dubois, the African American thinker and activist whose writings influenced generations of freedom fighters…born on February 23 in 1868 (Nicholas Parker). There is no house left, but it has become a National Historic Landmark, and includes a self-guided tour through the forest.
He studied in Germany and earned his doctorate from Harvard. He spoke on voting rights and worked and wrote for justice, not only for blacks in America but for people of African descent everywhere, including, Europe, Asia, and Latin America, and was a leading intellectual in the nascent movements of Civil Rights and an ardent peace activist. His work grew from the foundational truths of God. He wrote:
"Believe in life! Always human beings will progress to great, broader, and fuller life…”
“I believe in Liberty for all men: the space to stretch their arms and their souls, the right to breathe and the right to vote, the freedom to choose their friends, enjoy the sunshine, and ride on the railroads, un-cursed by color; thinking, dreaming, working as they will in a kingdom of beauty and love…”
“…I believe in God, who made of one blood all nations that on earth do dwell. I believe that all men, black and brown and white, are brothers, varying through time and opportunity, in form and gift and feature, but differing in no essential particular, andalike in soul and the possibility of infinite development.”
God continues to use people in this story of liberation. God could just zap Pharaoh and put in place a new, friendly ruler who would free them, but God chooses servants like Dr. Dubois and Moses.
The Presbyterian Church has done something amazing, not only in liberating minds but in closing the rifts between they and us, in – of all places – Lahore, Pakistan. The Presbyterian school there, Forman Christian College, is over one hundred years old, was founded by a Presbyterian missionary, and has been in resurgence in recent years.
All students sign a covenant that commits them to respect the dignity of all, maintain good moral values, and to value tolerance as well as education. Rev. Vic Pentz, retired pastor of Peachtree Presbyterian Church, noted, “Muslim students [who make up three-quarters of the FCC student body] are well aware that their education is due to Christian witness.”
A Pakastani named Javaid said the greatest difficulty in Pakistan, is interreligious conflict. The Presbyterian schools “provide a model that proves you can live and work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect.” Javaid tells the story of how this is happening:
A prominent Sunni Muslim parent in Lahore, Pakistan, came to Veeda, seeking to enroll his daughter in a Presbyterian school in the city. At home a short while later, the girl – now a student at the school – heard a shouting match going on between Sunnis and Shiites in her family’s living room. She marched into the room and said, ‘My teacher has taught me that we are all children of God and should be living in peace.’ The shouting stopped.
Healing the disaster of “they” and “us” is the work of God’s people everywhere. And it is not easy. Moses did not want to hear God’s voice. He had fled Egypt for fear of his life; he was away from the suffering and the slavery; he had a nice home and good work, with a nice family; he was settled. But as the saying goes, God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. Thus, the burning bush for Moses!
As a leading intellectual of his time, W.E.B. Du Bois showed how the power of the mind given by God can lead to this liberation. And this is the hope of Brick Church and the African Dream Academy.
Since God is a God of the “possibility of infinite development,” Brick Church has invested in this liberation ironically in the land of Liberia! But not only Liberia, through scholarships to our school, and Summer Steps, we also work hard to open the gift of the mind and the love of God for children in New York.
In the end, the Bible shows us, despite the modern movie mania, there are no “superheroes,” no perfectly pure Supermen or women fighting for “truth and justice.”
God uses these unlikely people, like Moses, as Exodus tells us, “So that you will know “that I am the Lord.”” This means the story is not ultimately about Moses, or us, but about God. The type of God who frees us with the mighty hand and then lifts us up with the outstretched arm. May all of us stretch our arms out wide to continue to tell the story and add new chapter to this amazing history of liberation and of salvation…for all. Amen.