Sunday, April 22, 2012
When life is a Mess
I have just started reading (again) the book of Exodus
The story of the Exodus starts with the people of Israel in Egypt
And as the story begins, the people are, oppressed
OPPRESSION: It’s a big deal!
We can be oppressed by a lot of things.
We can be oppressed by other people – There are women are oppressed by men, but it can work both ways. We can be oppressed by bosses, parents, other family members. Lots of people use power “on” other people in an unhealthy way.
We can be oppressed by addictions.
By old patterns of behavior and living
By circumstance, economics, misfortune, even illness
We can be oppressed by our own emotions. By fear, and hurt….
Anything that has power over us, that has the ability to control us, can oppress us…..
One thing we know about oppression
Is that it tends to make us less
Less whole, less happy, less free
But over all, it just makes us, as a person, less!
As the book of Exodus opens the old pharaoh, or king, who had loved Joseph, and honored his people, had died, and a new pharaoh was on the throne. And this Pharaoh “knew not Joseph”.
In that phrase we find the root of the profound oppression that would follow. We tend to fear what we do not understand, and hate what we fear, and act accordingly.
This Pharaoh did not know or understand these strangers who lived in his land. These --immigrants. They were different. And they were multiplying….
So he was afraid. And he hated…. And he oppressed. He set them to slave labor.
Now I just said that oppression often leads to depletion. But that didn’t happen here. The Pharaoh and his people oppressed, and the people of Israel just kept multiplying. So the Eygptians oppressed more. They enacted all kinds of legislation against these interlopers. And the immigrant band still grew. So the fear grew, and the concern grew until finally a radical option was enacted. The midwives were asked to kill all the boys. But even that didn’t work. The midwives wouldn’t do it, the people of Israel kept growing. So the oppression grew ever more intense.
It is out of this oppression the whole story of Exodus and indeed the Bible unfolds.
The birth and rescue of Moses
The confrontation between God and Pharaoh
The Exodus itself, and freedom, and the promised land, and the Kingdom of Israel, and David,
and eventually Jesus
There were a lot of things that jumped out at me as I read this opening movement in the story of the Exodus.
The first thing that hit me is this. 1. God uses strange things, sometimes difficult things to move us forward.
Without the oppression the Exodus might never have happened. The reality is that Egypt was pretty cool. There was the Nile, and thus plenty of water, and rich valleys. For that time it was a really good place to live. I think the people of Israel were probably getting pretty comfortable. Do you think they would have gone into the Desert? Easily? Ever, without the oppression?
Oppression, by itself depletes and destroys. And no, I am not one who thinks God causes oppression. But God can use anything. And in God’s hands oppression can cause growth –it can make us think. Cause us to examine ourselves, our behaviors, our values. It can be a catalyst for growth.
Think of a person in addiction. Who finally is so oppressed by his or her addiction that he says, she says….”Enough! I can’t live this way! I can’t survive this. I have to change”.
I have certainly had times in my life where things oppressed me. Where circumstances were dark, negative, destructive. And in those times, as I just kept moving, just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Just made one choice at a time, I found myself, sometimes after a long period of time in the wasteland, in a new place, yes, even a better place. God can, as Paul reminds us, make “all things work together for good.”
The second thing that jumped out at me here was the people God used to begin to shape this story, and the history of this people. So lesson two is this - 2. God can use anyone to impact our lives in a positive way…
I would have you note that the opening stories of Exodus, not just here in Chapter one, but going into chapter two, are all about women. All the key players are women. The midwives, who not only disobeyed pharaoh; they then told him a crazy story that he bought hook-line-and-sinker.
In chapter two Moses' mother was a hero. She defied pharaoh by hiding her baby, placing him in basket in the reeds. Moses' sister was a hero. She stood guard over the baby. When pharaoh's daughter discovered the baby, Moses' sister said, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” What presence of mind! The nurse of course was the baby’s real mother
And Pharaoh's own daughter was a hero. She defied her father by rescuing this Jewish baby. Everyone else might run scared of her father, but nobody was going to kill this baby while she was around.
This may not seem that big. Today we hardly notice the presence of women in the story. But when this book was written… they would have noticed. Ancient Israel was a very patriarchal society
Men were everything. Women, not so much. The listeners of this story would have been asking…
Where is the hero? And of course the hero came, in the person of Moses. But at the beginning it was women, which reminds me that God can use everyone. And that everyone has a role in fighting oppression.
On the one hand God will use all kinds of people to fight our oppression. God will put the right people in our lives. Move us into the right places. That’s God, always working. Nudge nudge.....
On the other hand, God will use us, perhaps, to help another person with their oppression. God will use us to fight even the big kinds of oppression that our out there in our world. And fight we should. If it’s wrong, oppressing the poor for example, it is wrong and we should be the ones to so…. “enough”.
This is a story about lots of things, as you can see…. But most of all, this is a story about God. As this story unfolded God, the great innovator was constantly at work. In the rescue of Moses, in his discovery the princesses, and in everything that happened from there on out…. 3. So the third thing I see is that when we are in a mess, God is there, in the midst, working.
One commentary suggested that as this story unfolded God had a plan. He insisted that Moses was not born by accident. He was part of God's plan. God knew the people were hurting. So, he planned. For this baby to be born, and more!
The commentator believes the story shows how far God plans ahead, how carefully God works behind the scenes to help his people. Nobody the commentator said, “could suspect that the baby was important. Nobody could see the plan. Moses' birth seemed unimportant, unplanned, even chaotic. Nevertheless, God was at work quietly behind the scenes, preparing, getting ready to act, getting ready to save his people.”
That to me is comforting. It is nice to know that when we are in the midst… God has a plan.
But I honestly wonder, because we are who we are, and are so good at frustrating God’s original plan, whether the story that happened was according to plan. I tend to believe that God often needs to adjust, change, innovate to bring the divine purpose into being.
Think about the Exodus. It was not an easy journey. Often we think we know where things are headed, and then suddenly things happen, and the journey changes.
In this story there were many twists and turns. It wasn’t smooth. And the story as it unfolded may not have been God’s Plan A.
Where the people of Israel supposed to “settle into” Egypt? Perhaps they were supposed to go home after the drought was over (that is why they were there).
Was Moses supposed to be impetuous and kill that guard? Or was he supposed to use his position as a prince to help his people?
Were the people supposed to falter in the wilderness, and end up wandering?
I suggest that perhaps this story was not the original story…
But what is clear is that through it all God was working
God used Moses’ banishment to the desert
God used the Pharaoh’s stubbornness
God used the people’s disobedience and time in the desert…
And eventually, they found their way to the promised land.
That is the way it is. God is always in the midst…
Nudging, guiding… as we wander along we find that things “just happen”
These things might have been part of what God had in mind….part of the original concept
But sometimes it is just God being innovative.
We saw how god used oppression, don’t think he caused it but he used it
And he used whoever was willing…
God will take whatever happens. He will take whoever is there…
God will take whatever we give him… And God will get us,
If just just keep trying to be willing
God will get us to “that new place”
To a land of milk and honey?
Perhaps not, but at least to a new place
A place along the way…
In our journey toward the “new, good thing” God has in mind for our lives.