The exodus story (revised 2019)

Deuteronomy 8:1-18

This entire commandment that I command you today you must diligently observe, so that you may live and increase, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. 2Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. 3He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4The clothes on your back did not wear out and your feet did not swell these forty years. 5Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the Lord your God disciplines you. 6Therefore keep the commandments of the Lord your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him. 7For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, 8a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper.

10You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.

11Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. 12When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.

 

Luke 17:11-19

11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

 

 

Way back in 1978 after the success of the first Star Wars movie, a pilot movie was released and then a television series with the title “Battlestar Galactica.”

It lasted one year, but there was always interest in the series and finally the series was redone in released with a miniseries and four years of television shows.

 

The premise is that humans living on the twelve colonies come under a sneak nuclear attack by non-humans called Cylons.

The planets on which they live are basically wiped out and a remnant of humans are left in a fleet of spaceships trying to make their way back to a planet which will be their promised land, a kind of mythical place called “earth.”

 

The series revolves around this exodus of the 12 colonies and their wanderings in the wilderness of space on their way to the promised land, “earth.”

 

I use movies and stories a lot in my sermons because I think that we humans live our lives in that way. That is to say that the stories we see, hear read and tell… about our families, our world, our country, our culture, our history and our selves are the building blocks of meaning in our lives.

And everyone takes their stories and builds their own meaning. We can’t help it.

Ideas are wonderful, but it is stories often, that give concrete expression to those ideas.

 

The biblical stories are wonderful stories of human endeavour and meaning and they encompass such a wide range of feeling, expression, theology, human interaction and spiritual expression.

 

And those stories are often retold in various ways.

 

The Exodus story, is such a powerful story.

 

It is the story of how a people, oppressed and enslaved are led to freedom. There is escape, slavery, plagues, Passover, walking through the midst of the sea, wandering in the wilderness, receiving manna in the desert, receiving a law and making their way to a promised land, is an amazing story with so many themes and metaphors to make our heads spin.

And this story or parts of this story have been repeated many times in literature, movies, television and even in life.

 

Battlestar Galactica is just one version of the Exodus story. The humans escaping oppression wander in the wilderness of space looking for the promised land, earth.

 

But these themes are not just for stories and fiction. That is sometimes how real life is understood.

 

The pilgrims who made their way to the New World landing at Plymouth rock understood their journey and their lives in light of the story of the Exodus.

They had been oppressed in Europe.

Europe was Egypt.

The Atlantic Ocean was the Red Sea and the new World was the Promised Land.

When they gave thanks at the end of the summer in the fall at the harvest, they believed that God has led them to this new life and new world.

 

That kind of story becomes a defining story.

It is a story that becomes our history, thus part of our story.

 

And it is a Canadian story too. Immigrants to the prairies swelled its population tremendously over the last hundred years or so…

And many ethnic groups came to Canada as a kind of Exodus to a promised land.

Scottish, English, French, Ukrainians, Hungarians, Germans, Russians, Italians…

Chinese, Vietnamese, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Ghanaians, Cameroonians, Somalis…to name just a few….

 

Many came from place of hardship and oppression with the hope of land, jobs, and new life…

 

Even in our own congregation we will find that a number of us were born in another country, many of us were born away from here.

And only a few of us would have grandparents from Alberta or maybe even Canada.

 

The Exodus story has provided a lot of identity to a lot of people.

 

In fact, I wonder if we all don’t have our own story of an exodus. You were living in one place and things were tough and you moved to another place for a chance at a better life.

 

 

Four days before my tenth birthday I was put on a plane with my elder brother and we were sent across the ocean from England.

Stopping in Gander to fuel, we disembarked the plane in twenty-below weather and I was wearing the traditional English schoolboy grey flannel shorts.

 

We landed later in Saint John New Brunswick, met at the airport by our uncle, and a couple of days later we were at our grandparents home in Hampton.

There were mountains of snow that year.

 

And life was weird in Canada. Boys wore jeans, checked flannel shirts and hightop black sneakers with a baseball on the heal.

They spat and cursed and fought and were more or less barbarians.

 

I was used to going to school in grey flannel shorts, shirt and tie and blazer and polished shoes.

I wasn’t used to 16-year olds in grade five and boys who were too busy working on the farm to do any studying.

 

It was maybe, an Exodus not of my own choosing, but much like any child during that first Exodus who wasn’t completely sure what was going on, my mother had decided to forge a new life.

She was leaving a bad marriage for a promise of freedom and prosperity and security by coming to Canada and moving back in with her parents, my grandparents.

 

And while at first Canada didn’t seem a promised land, it wasn’t long before I had friends and family and my mother was more secure and happy and Canada became a Promised Land for me, even though I would not have thought about it in those terms when I was a boy.

 

And the response I have is gratitude. Thankfulness.

I feel so blessed to be Canadian, to have grown up in this beautiful country and to have the blessings of food, clothing, shelter, medical care, work and family…

 

I know we are in the midst of a general election and I like many others think there are things that can be improved in Canada and sometimes despair a bit about the political process, I believe, that in comparison to so many countries, we have it good and there is so much for which to be thankful.

 

But there are other kinds of exoduses as well.

 

Walter Brueggeman talks about the pattern of the exodus; slavery, promise, salvation, wilderness and promised land as a kind of recurring pattern of life.

 

We are in a good place a safe place, things are going well, but something happens, sometimes bad, or sometimes just an opportunity, and there is the promise of something new, something better, and we move towards that.

There is often a time of wilderness until things finally resolve and we are in a new place, a promised land where things are settled.

 

Some examples of the exodus/promised land metaphor…

We go off to university or college, we get married, we move to a new community, we take a new job.

And as we move from the old place to the new place there is wilderness in between.

 

Sometimes the Exodus can even be our own inner journey.

 

At one time I had little faith or understanding of God. Then as a teenager I encountered god and sojourned in a Baptist church and then a Pentecostal church.

 

And then through a strange series of events where I went to Cambridge to visit my father, where I met a girl, I ended up meeting a Presbyterian minister.

The girl dumped me, but that meeting with the Presbyterian minister was the first step in becoming a Presbyterian and entering seminary.

And it was at that minister’s church in Cambridge where I met another girl, Fiona, who became my wife.

 

And when I went to seminary my understanding of God went through the wilderness and yet I came through to a new understanding of God.

And that process has happened a couple of times as my understanding of God has changed, deepened, broadened..

From Egypt through the sea and the wilderness to promised land.

 

And I am profoundly grateful

 

And when I went through a bad time at one church and there were those who didn’t want me as minister.

That feeling of wanting to escape, of being in the wilderness, of not knowing the future, of hurt and anguish,

Of being thirsty and hungry for something better,

of wanting a promised land…

 

We all have our exoduses.

 

What are yours?

Where do you need to be set free?

What promised land are you looking for?

 

Because truly I can say

the best promised land was not about a geographic move…

 

it was about finding God within me…

it was about finding grace and love…

it was about becoming whole within…

it was about finding a peace that passes most human understanding..

 

And I found that through the story of Jesus.

 

You know Matthew in particular used the exodus story in referring to Jesus.

 

For Matthew Jesus was like the new Moses. His life was threatened as a baby. He lived in Egypt in infancy.

He wandered in the wilderness fourty days like the Israelites wandered fourty years

He multiplied the loaves like creating manna in the desert.

He went up on the mountain and brought in a new law.

He walked on the water like Moses parted the Red Sea.

He went through the wilderness of death to the promised land of resurrection.

 

And he did all this to free us….

 

So what does he free us from?

 

Well some people say that he frees us from sin.

 

And that is right. But Jesus doesn’t make all sin go away. He doesn’t make all wrongs disappear.

 

But what he does is say that our sin, our faults, our messes, screw-ups, selfishness and even evil,

Will not stop him loving us.

 

But more than saving us from sin, Jesus saves us by setting us free. Jesus sets us free to be the kind of people God wants us to be… the deep down, we ourselves want to be…

And that is that we like Jesus can love people, seek peace and harmony, forgive one another,

And not let our sins nor anyone else’s detract us from being loving, caring people.

 

 

You know the gospel story today is about the ten lepers who were healed and only one comes back to say thanks, and that one is a foreigner, even an enemy of the Jews.

And I suppose that one of the lessons is that so few people are really grateful for what they have in life, and we should be more grateful…

 

But I think what is even more amazing is the Jesus heals all ten. He heals them all,

those who deserve it and those who don’t,

those who are grateful and those who are self-centred….

Those who will walk away in the sunset and that one who will return…

 

The grace of God and Jesus is truly amazing….

 

You see the good news of the story is not so much the one person who returned to give thanks…

As much as it is that fact that God sends out his grace freely to all.

 

And you and I always have the opportunity to receive it and even share it…

Not everybody responds to this grace…

Not everybody shares this grace…

But we all have a chance to

 

And today I stand in awe of this grace and thank God for this story that inhabits my life, this story of Jesus which becomes my story…

This grace which becomes my grace….

This love which becomes my love…..

 

You see for me this promised land is Jesus himself.

 

His way of love is the way to be.

His truth, that he loves us no matter what. is the truth that sets us free.

His death at the hand of the political rulers says that we can stand up for truth and justice even if is costs us our lives.

His resurrection says that we can die to an old way of life and be set free to live a new way of life.

 

Today I am thankful for many things. In particular I am thankful for the stories that inform my life and help give meaning to me.

 

I just heard a beautiful story the other day that brought me to tears.,

When I was in Toronto at the Pension Board meetings, my friend Jim, a former school principal, and a former congregant in a church where I was minister, picked me after the Pension Board meetings and spent the afternoon with me as I waited for seven hours for my flight back to Edmonton. It actually turned out to be eight hours. It took them an hour to change a light bulb in the plane.

 

But Jim told me a story that when he was first a principal in a school in Oshawa, that he had to hire a teacher. He had somebody lined up that he knew, but the vice-principal came to him and said that there was another person, that would be better and deserved it.

I’ll call his name Reggie. The vice principal said that Reggie had been substituting in the school for a number of years and was a great teacher and had been passed over for jobs by the previous principal three times because Reggie was gay…

Even though Reggie got along with all the staff was a great teacher and was willing to do anything to be helpful in the school. The Vice-Principal went on to say that the all the staff were in support of hiring Reggie.

So Jim, in his wisdom, asked Reggie in for an interview. Reggie came in, supremely nervous, and Jim was writing at his desk. After a couple of minutes Jim looked up and said to Reggie: Well you had a wonderful interview and I am pleased to offer you a position here at the school as a teacher.

Reggie was overwhelmed with tears and gratitude.

And when Reggie left the office, the Vice principal had gathered all the teachers, and the support staff to greet and welcome Reggie and they sang; “For he’s a jolly good fellow.”

 

According to Jim, Reggie went on to be a superb teacher and retired a little while ago, and got married and Jim went to his wedding.

I cried when I heard that story.

 

Gays in our history have sometimes been treated like lepers…

And this is one story when one person who was shut out, reached the promised land because people went to bat for him

 

I am thankful for Jesus for he is my promised land and I believe the way to be in this world is the way of Jesus.

I am grateful that I have been one of those lepers touched by the grace and love of Jesus and by the grace and love from others.

And I believe that if we live the way of Jesus, we will help people in the wilderness, help people who are oppressed, help people who are struggling, help people to the promised land…

And I am thankful that I have seen people in this congregation work together in grace to reach out in healing and compassion and love to others. I have seen the promised land right here in the lives and love of people who follow Jesus.

Amen.