Slavery

 Exodus 3:1-12

       One day while Moses was taking care of the sheep and goats of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, he led the flock across the desert and came to Sinai, the holy mountain. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him as a flame coming from the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was on fire but that it was not burning up. “This is strange,” he thought. “Why isn’t the bush burning up? I will go closer and see.”

          4 When the Lord saw that Moses was coming closer, he called to him from the middle of the bush and said, “Moses! Moses!”

He answered, “Yes, here I am.”

          5 God said, “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” So Moses covered his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

          7 Then the Lord said, “I have seen how cruelly my people are being treated in Egypt; I have heard them cry out to be rescued from their slave drivers. I know all about their sufferings, and so I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians and to bring them out of Egypt to a spacious land, one which is rich and fertile and in which the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites now live. I have indeed heard the cry of my people, and I see how the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 Now I am sending you to the king of Egypt so that you can lead my people out of his country.”

          11 But Moses said to God, “I am nobody. How can I go to the king and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

          12 God answered, “I will be with you, and when you bring the people out of Egypt, you will worship me on this mountain. That will be the proof that I have sent you.”

 

Romans 8:1-17

There is no condemnation now for those who live in union with Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit, which brings us life in union with Christ Jesus, has set me free from the law of sin and death. What the Law could not do, because human nature was weak, God did. He condemned sin in human nature by sending his own Son, who came with a nature like our sinful nature, to do away with sin. God did this so that the righteous demands of the Law might be fully satisfied in us who live according to the Spirit, and not according to human nature. Those who live as their human nature tells them to, have their minds controlled by what human nature wants. Those who live as the Spirit tells them to, have their minds controlled by what the Spirit wants. To be controlled by human nature results in death; to be controlled by the Spirit results in life and peace. And so people become enemies of God when they are controlled by their human nature; for they do not obey God’s law, and in fact they cannot obey it. Those who obey their human nature cannot please God.

          9 But you do not live as your human nature tells you to; instead, you live as the Spirit tells you to—if, in fact, God’s Spirit lives in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ lives in you, the Spirit is life for you because you have been put right with God, even though your bodies are going to die because of sin. 11 If the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from death, lives in you, then he who raised Christ from death will also give life to your mortal bodies by the presence of his Spirit in you.

          12 So then, my friends, we have an obligation, but it is not to live as our human nature wants us to. 13 For if you live according to your human nature, you are going to die; but if by the Spirit you put to death your sinful actions, you will live. 14 Those who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s children. 15 For the Spirit that God has given you does not make you slaves and cause you to be afraid; instead, the Spirit makes you God’s children, and by the Spirit’s power we cry out to God, “Father! my Father!” 16 God’s Spirit joins himself to our spirits to declare that we are God’s children. 17 Since we are his children, we will possess the blessings he keeps for his people, and we will also possess with Christ what God has kept for him; for if we share Christ’s suffering, we will also share his glory.

 

Luke 4:16-21

          16 Then Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath he went as usual to the synagogue. He stood up to read the Scriptures 17 and was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written,

        18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,     because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives     and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed 19     and announce that the time has come     when the Lord will save his people.”

          20 Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. All the people in the synagogue had their eyes fixed on him, 21 as he said to them, “This passage of scripture has come true today, as you heard it being read.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I went to my first opera ever here in Edmonton a few years ago when a friend who was singing in the opera gave me a free ticket.

It was an interesting experience. I can’t say it is my favourite genre of entertainment. I much prefer the comic opera, because the words are in English and there is dialogue between the characters and there is humour.

I don’t think there was any humour in the first opera I went to, which by the way was Aida, written by Giuseppe Verdi.

 

The plot of Aida is about an Egyptian General who falls in love with a slave woman, an Ethiopian. He ends up saving her and her father the king of Ethiopia from slavery, but is branded a traitor and sentenced to death to be buried alive.

 

He is put in a dark vault where he awaits his death, and hears someone. It is Aida, the slave woman, his love, who has come back to join him and die with him.

 

I suppose one reason that classical opera is not my favourite genre, is that most of it seems dark. They sing about impassioned love and betrayal, and it is heavy…        …and in the end the hero or the heroine or both, or a bunch of people die.

It always seems to be tragic.

 

Just how stupid is a heroine whose lover gives up his live to save her from being buried alive, and then because she loves him she goes and joins him in being buried alive anyway.

 

Aida uses the dramatic tension that is found throughout the years in countless stories of love across the class boundaries that are not supposed to be broken.

A general falls in love with a slave.

 

Now slavery was very common throughout the early world in which the bible was written.

It is not as common today, especially in Canada, but it certainly exists in the world today.

According to the Walk Free Foundation (https://www.globalslaveryindex.org) there are approximately 40 million people who live in slavery.

 

One form of slavery is Human trafficking, which  is the recruitment, transportation transfer, harbouring, or the receipt of persons, with the purpose of exploitation, such as prostitution, sexual exploitation, forced labour, servitude, slavery or removal of organs.

Another form of slavery is debt bondage where poor people in order to get out of debt do labour or service to get out of debt, but the value of their service or labour is not applied fairly to their debt, and there may be no length of time to their service or labour.

Another form of slavery is forced or servile marriage where women are sold to a men as wives, and may be transferred to another husband in exchange for money, and/or may be inherited to another man if their husband dies.

This especially happens in patriarchal societies where men have all the say and the man is the literal head of the house.

 

Way back in time around the time of the birth of a baby called Moses to a Hebrew family living in Egypt, slavery was much more common.

 

There were several ways to end up as a slave. If your family became poor and destitute then in order to have food to eat the family might indenture themselves as slaves to a wealthy family.

There were no food banks, unemployment insurance, welfare. For some slavery was a better alternative then dying of starvation.

Another was to end up as a slave is if your nation or country or city state was conquered by another country, nation or city state. Maybe you were one of the lucky ones taken as a slave instead of put to death by the conquerors.

Another way to end up as a slave was to be born to slave.

Another way was to be a refugee and move to a foreign country who then forced you into slavery.

And similarly, another way to end up as a slave is if you were part of some minority group. If for instance you were a group of Hebrews living in Egypt, you might be vulnerable to the whims of the Pharaoh who decides that Hebrews are personae non gratae, or enemies or threats.

 

And that is what happens to the Hebrews. The Egyptians force the Hebrews into slavery.

And the Egyptians practice genocide ordering that the baby boys be killed. Why just the boys? So that there will be an excess of women to sexually exploit, and so over time there will be no pure Hebrews left. Eventually over time the Hebrews would be assimilated in and there would be no Hebrews left.

 

But God hears the cries of the slaves. God is against slavery and he calls a person. God chooses one person to be the means by which the slaves will be liberated. God calls one to be the leader who will lead them out of slavery.

 

And Moses is born. He too is to be executed, but he is hidden in a basket woven of bulrushes, place in the Nile and found by and Egyptian princess. He is adopted by her and grows up as part of the Egyptian royal family, but he really is a Hebrew and he knows it.

He can see with his own eyes as he grows up, the horrors of slavery and how people just like him are beaten and abused and forced to work and are even killed, just because they are of a different ethnic heritage.

 

And he comes to believe how unjust it is, until one day when he is forty years old, he gets so mad when he sees an Egyptian who is beating up a slave, that Moses kills him.

He thinks it is a secret, but the secret gets out and he runs away to make a new life for himself in Midian, where he meets a beautiful woman, falls in love, gets married and settles down happily ever after as a shepherd.

Except God has other plans for Moses’ ever after.

 

40 years after leaving Egypt God speaks to Moses out in the desert through a burning bush.

And God says that Moses is the one who is going to lead the people. He is the one that will lead them to their salvation. He will lead them from slavery to freedom.

 

It is the central story of the whole Old Testament, and the story is called the Exodus.

 

Moses goes back to Egypt goes into the Pharaoh and says “ Let my people go.”

The scripture talks about the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart.

Signs and wonder are done. Plagues arrive and finally there is a terrible night when the firstborn of the Egyptians die.

I myself have trouble in the literal reading of scripture here, that God would send an angel to kill children.

 

I understand it more metaphorically, that the actions of brutal dictators often results in consequences for innocents and innocent children.

 

For instance in Yemen today there is a civil war with supposedly Saudi Arabia and the United States backing one side against the other side supposedly backed by Iraq.

 

The consequences right now are that somewhat in the neighbourhood of 13 million Yemeni people are in danger of starving.

Way more people have starved to death in this conflict that have been killed by weapons, but it is a fraction of how many could starve.

The actions of the rich and powerful can have tremendous consequences on the innocent,

 

So the innocents die in Egypt at the time of Moses and Pharaoh agrees to let them go.

And the nation of Israel leaves.

The night of terror is called the Passover, because the terror did not hit the Hebrews, but passed over them.

 

It is the beginning of freedom and liberation.

 

I would like to say that for the Hebrew children there was a happy ever after, but that is not the case. For the next fourty years they spend time in the Sinai peninsula supposedly on the way on the promised land, but the promised land is only a few days journey away, and the fourty years in the wilderness is a time of learning and testing and struggle.

And even when they get to the promised land it still is a time of learning testing and struggle, because in the bible there never really is any happily ever afters, because it is based on real life.

And in real life there is always learning and growth, struggle and challenge. Maybe there are many good times too, but real life is not about happily ever afters, but mixture of highs and lows, ups and downs, problems and solutions, times of anxiety and crises, and time of peace and blessing.

Through it all the Israelites developed their relationship to God. Sometimes they trusted and sometimes they doubted. Sometimes they understood God as law and sometimes they understood God as grace. Sometimes they listened to God and sometimes they didn’t.

Sometimes they went their own way and sometimes they went God’s way.

Sometimes they acted in a selfish way and sometimes they acted in a way that was good for all the people.

 

Sometimes they were downright sinful and rebellious. Sometimes they were full or faith and trust.

 

And what we learn through all these stories is that God is on the side of the oppressed and wants them to be free.

WE learn that God walks with those who want to walk with God and God teaches them the way to walk in peace and love and harmony.

We learn that all of have times of slavery and oppression..

And all of have times of wilderness and struggle.

All of us have times of blessing and promised land.

And all of us have time of learning and growth and faith.

 

We learn that all of us are like Moses.

 

All of us a called. All of us have choices. Will we stand up for those who are oppressed?

Will we give up when there are frustrations and struggles or even when our own side gives us grief?

Will we have the faith to move God’s way when everybody else is saying that we should dance or party or eat or have fun, or make money, or acquire things?

Will we make a difference in other people’s lives by helping them to be free to be who they are, the people God created them to be?

 

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is presented as the new Moses.

Whereas Pharaoh tried to kill the baby boys including Moses, so Herod kills the baby boys when Jesus is born and tries to kill Jesus.

Whereas Moses left Egypt for Israel, Jesus left Israel for Egypt.

Whereas Moses went up on the mountain to receive the law, Jesus went up a mountain to give his longest and most significant sermon, which many see as Jesus’ new law.

 

Whereas Moses was a part of the Manna in the wilderness, Jesus fed the multitudes in the wilderness.

 

Whereas there are five books of the law Jesus has five sermons in Matthew’s gospel

 

Jesus is one of the descendants of those who escaped to freedom during the Exodus.

And each year at Passover Jesus would re-enact that story of freedom…

And the very night before he died, Jesus connected that story with his own life and death and resurrection.

 

Jesus said that because of him God passed over judgement and punishment and set us free to love one another and live a different way of life.

A life not of condemnation of others, nor of subjugation of others, nor of being better than other, but serving others and giving of ourselves to release people from slavery.

 

One thing we learn from Jesus and the Exodus is that Jesus sees that every one of us is a slave at times…

A slave to desire, to ego, to sin, to doing what we want at the expense of others…

Every one of us knows hate or prejudice or tries to enslave others in our schemes and plans.

 

Everyone of us needs to be liberated and set free. And Jesus’ way of love is the way to be free. Repenting and going a new direction sets us free.

And everyone of us can help set others free

 

 

 

 

 

There was quite a good movie out about 23 years ago entitled Mr. Holland’s Opus.

At the beginning of the movie, Mr. Holland is portrayed as a failed musician who reluctantly agrees to teach High School music to pay the bills, while at the same time working on a Symphony he plans to create. As the years go by, Mr. Holland begins to enjoy his work, and does his best to convey his love of music to his less than interested students.

After 30 years on the job, Mr. Holland learns that the art, music and drama departments at his school are being cut due to budget problems, and thus Mr. Holland is being forced to retire. At a surprise rally in honour of him, many of Mr. Holland’s present and former students gather to thank him for all that he has done.

The master of ceremonies is one of Mr. Holland’s first students, who is now the governor of their state. Her speech tells of the importance that he played on so many people’s lives:

“Mr Holland had a profound influence on my life – on a lot of lives I know.  And yet, I get the feeling that he considers a great part of his life misspent. Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his and this was going to make him famous, rich – probably both. But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous – at least not outside of our little town.

So it might be easy for him to think himself a failure. And he would be wrong, because I think he has achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you, there is not a life in this room that you have not touched and each one of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. And we are the music of your life.”

 

We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.

 

By the way Opus is singular for Opera

We are the melodies and notes of God’s opus.

We are the music of God’s life, the treasure of enormous price.

We are the ones Jesus saves.

 

And what he asks of us that we be Moses or Mr. Holland and write our own opus, and that the opera of the children of God would be to help people be free.

Help people find justice and equality.

Help people be free to be who they are.

Help people to be free of sin and selfishness.

Help people to be free to love and be loved.

And the way we do that is to do what do what Jesus did. And that is to love and care for people and be a servant of humanity.

Amen