Plagued

Exodus 12:1-14

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

 

Romans 13:8-14

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

 

Matthew 18:15-20

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

 

 

 

Last week Norm, our caretaker was stung by a wasp. There is a nest of wasps in our 100-year-old Manitoba maple. I was stung by a wasp in another place. And we had a wasp nest under our steps at home, which I couldn’t get at and had to call a professional exterminator. We have found from previous experience if you don’t get rid of the wasps then you won’t get your mail.

This is not the first battle with insects I have had. In the first apartment Fiona and I lived in when we were first married, just outside the little community of Rockton, Ontario which is famous for its World Fair. In fact, I remember being at the Rockton World Fair 40 years ago and a young lady that Fiona and I knew was singing at that World’s Fair. Her name at the time was Florence Hood and she is the mother of Stuart and Jenna Walker who are the Canadian country group, the Reklaws.

Anyway, at this little apartment we had, we came home one day and it was completely infested with ants. One little ant must have come upstairs into the apartment and it found something sweet like some honey, and it told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on…

And when we came home there were thousands upon thousands of ants in our apartment.

Fiona went and stayed with her parents while I went to work fumigating and cleaning and getting rid of ants.

 

In our last house in St. Albert, we had a few ants on the outside of our house, so I went and got the Raid and I sprayed the outside of the house. About a minute later I heard terrible screams from inside the house. I rushed in to sed Fiona terrified because thousands of ants were flying around our house. Carpenter ants had got into the woodwork of the sunroom and some of them can fly and when I sprayed on the outside, they all came inside. What a mess.

 

And then in my son’s townhouse, we were renting it, and when I went in to paint it there were hundreds of tiny bugs which I found out were cockroaches. And those tiny cockroaches grew into bigger cockroaches. Ugh!

 

So, when I think of the plagues of Egypt, I get the creepy crawlies thinking about an infestation of frogs, of gnats, of flies, of locusts…of sores…

 

The story of the plagues of Egypt is found in the book of Exodus where the Egyptian Pharaoh had basically enslaved the Hebrews. More than that, he was basically practicing genocide killing the baby boys.

 

And when Moses comes back after being called by God in the wilderness there is there stand-off between the power of God and the power of the Pharaoh.

 

It is kind of is acted out in a pattern. Moses asks for the people to be released. Pharaoh says “no.” The plague is sent. Pharaoh says “ok, I will do as you say.” The plague stops. But then Pharaoh hardens his heart and reneges on the deal and won’t let the Hebrews go.

Rinse and repeat nine times. Until the last one: Number ten. The death of the firstborn.

And in today’s Old Testament lesson we get the preparation for the Passover. The blood of the lamb is placed on the door and the angel of death passes over the home of the Israelites and kills the firstborn of the Egyptians including Pharaoh’s son.

Finally, Pharaoh lets the Hebrew go. He will change his mind later and go after them with his army and then this is the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian army as the waves crash back upon them.

 

It to me is one of the most demanding stories in the whole bible, because of the death of children

 

Some of us who are older can remember the movie The Ten Commandments directed by Cecil B DeMille, released in 1956 and starring Yul Brynner as Pharaoh and Charlton Heston as Moses.

It told the story very literally. It played very well as an action story literally and visually was spectacular.

But biblical stories are often more about what they mean, and my way of dealing with this is to take it more symbolically and metaphorically.

 

There are still many pharaohs today. In fact, in the western world most of us should be reading the text from the perspective of the Egyptians. We have enslaved; and beaten down; and marginalized; and used people in many different ways. The Western world colonized and dominated people and cultures all over this world, used their resources. We enslaved people from Africa, and other places; we treated women as second-class citizens or not even people; we thought people of different religions were going to hell, and even tortured them; we tried to get rid of aboriginals and their culture; we criminalized sexual conduct between people of the same sex.

 

And to be perfectly honest, most of us have to look inside and think about the ways we use what power we have to get what we want, to hurt who we want, to ignore who we want,  and to get higher up the food chain.

 

We learn to lie, to manipulate, to wheedle, whine, complain, fudge the truth. We use our money, our looks, our friends, our connections. We use the silent treatment or bullying. We tease, torment, name-call, swear, gossip and cut down.

We all have ways to try and dominate others and assert power or control.

We buy into (emotionally, physically, socially, financially and/or psychologically) into a family, or a group, or a church, or a club, or an ideology, or a doctrine, or a political party, that says it is right and the others are wrong.

 

We know how to be Pharaoh, and to be hard-hearted and stubborn and selfish and dominating.

 

And when you are in Pharaoh mode, you love the phrase “law and order,” because law and order is the way you get your police, your civil law, your armies, your national guard or whatever… to keep the status quo. Pharaohs don’t want things to change, because they are the ones who benefit most from the way things are.

 

So, what is the same today is in the biblical story of the plagues is that there are Pharaohs. Lots of them who control dominate and keep things the same, who don’t want to set people free.

 

And what is also the same is the plagues.

I live in Edmonton. You go to the parts of Edmonton, or you deal with the some people in Edmonton, and you deal with the plagues of bedbugs, and cockroaches, and HIV and Hepatitis and addiction and homelessness and missing aboriginal women, and rodents, and eating from garbage bins, and sleeping in church front porches, and needlesticks, and overdoses.

 

Some of that is connected to poverty and some of it is found in all of the socioeconomic layers.

About 10 percent of all Canadians live below the poverty line.

 

And that’s the thing about the plagues in this life and it was the same in Egypt. The plagues of life disproportionately hurt the poor.

Covid-19 has disproportionately affected the poor. In general, the poor have less access to medical care.  The poor have fewer backup resources or no nest eggs, or fewer places to go to avoid contact with others. They have less resources to deal with job loss, cleaning,

When Hurricanes come or Typhoons, it is the poor who are hit hardest.

 

So, Pharaohs are still here. Plagues are still here. And there are still people crying out: let my people go.

 

The current iteration of the “Let my people go” cry is the Black Lives Matter movement, sparked particularly by the numerous occasions of unarmed black people being shot or hurt or killed by the police in the United States.

Racism still plagues our society and our institutions.

 

That is the one that has grabbed a lot of media attention but it is not the only one.

The plague of poverty. The plague of addiction. The plague of the opioid crisis. The plague of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

The Me Too movement underscored the plague of Sexual Abuse and Harassment and the plague of Sexism.

There is the plague of racism that haunts First Nations people.

There are plagues of dictatorships, gun violence, crime, terrorism, suppressed free speech and other freedoms. There is no end to the plagues.

Therefore, I understand protest and civil unrest.

 

The Pharaohs of this world will not change anything until they feel uncomfortable, until they feel they are not in control of everything, until it starts to hurt a bit somewhere, financially, or politically, or morally, or spiritually.

 

Protests put pressure on the Pharaohs. No wonder some of the Pharaohs want to stop protests and unrest.

“Vote for me. I am the law and order guy.”

 

I don’t think we should want the law and order guy. I think we should want the person who will set people free.

Who can set the sick free?

Who can set the poor free?

Who can set the addict free?

Who can set the guilty free?

Who can set the not only the poor free, but the Pharaohs free?

Who sets us free from racism, sexism, homophobia, materialism, prejudice, superiority, violence, control and religious elitism?

Who is the person or people that will set people free?

 

We say his name is Jesus. That to follow Jesus’ way of love is the way to set people free.

Isn’t that what we are to be about? Setting people free. Resurrecting them from tombs of enslavement.

 

Where do you need to be free? Who sets you free?

 

Love sets me free. Unconditional, extravagant, over the top, even undeserved, love sets me free.

 

Love that lets me be me and doesn’t Judge.

Love that listens to me and hears me and understands me.

Love that challenges me to be more loving myself.

Love that forgives and encourages me to forgive.

Love that reaches down into my soul and wants the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Love that makes me not afraid to tell the truth because it will be met with love, not judgement rejection or punishment.

 

Love that opens my heart and makes me feel like I am family and that I belong, that I have value and I am somebody precious.

 

And in today’s gospel lesson we a radically different path from Jesus.

 

I must confess that I and other Christians have at times taken this same passage and turned it into a law and order text. Do it this way or else you will be kicked out.

 

“If a brother or a sister of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If he or she listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If that brother or sister refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.

 

“Can we talk?” That was a catchphrase the late comedienne Joan Rivers used to day.

 

“Can we talk?”

 

The first thing Jesus suggests we do is talk about it. Honest conversation with those with whom we have differences.

I have to be honest about the church. Sometimes we have been spectacularly bad about talking. Conversations about traditional vs contemporary music, the acceptance and role of women, the inclusion of gays and lesbians to name just a few things has not always gone well.

Sometimes as a church we shoved issues under the carpet, or we gossipped about it behind people’s back, or we took sides, or we weaponized our words or our silences. Or we used shame or knowledge to intimidate.

 

Debie Thomas in her article “The Beloved Community” from the Journey with Jesus Webzine (https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/2740-the-beloved-community)

suggests that the principles of love and respect should undergird our engagement with the other… and I add, with both the Pharaohs of this world and the enslaved. And remember you can be both of these things.

 

The first thing she suggests is that we choose depth. That when there is something broken, when we experience conflict we need to name it and explore it. And explore it in some depth. We should engage and converse and strive for genuine understanding and healing. The goal is not to win or be right, but to understand. Do we value honesty and integrity enough to listen without defensiveness? Can we honestly assess the impact of our words and actions on others? Do we really care about justice, compassion, repentance and reconciliation as much as Jesus does, or do we want shallow spiritual lives?

 

The second thing Debie suggest is that we need to preserve each other’s dignity. If there is conflict you work it out alone with the other. We are to use discretion, kindness and care. The first thing to do is not to turn to your family and friends and point out what a moron the other is. Don’t use situations of conflict to one up your opponent or make them look silly. The other is a human being that needs respect and love.

 

The third thing Debie suggests is to guard the truth. If you are not getting somewhere with the other then take one or two with you says Jesus, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of witnesses.

The very concept of truth these days is being attacked. Lies are spread as easily as truths in this day of mass media and social media.

The point of others is so that conversation is not twisted and misused, but to guard the truth. And we have a responsibility not to twist the words of another.

 

And fourthly if you are not listened to tell it to the church.

You see ultimately what is at stake is community. It isn’t that people think differently, but that we let our differences keep us from community. So, Debie says that Jesus invites us to lean into the community. Trust the community. Work with the community. Value community.

 

Sometimes we will not work it out. Sometimes someone will leave, someone will not be reconciled no matter how much love, understanding, compassion, sharing or listening is done. And we should grieve that, not think good riddance.

 

And finally, if reconciliation doesn’t happen Jesus says to treat that one as a Gentile or tax collector. Often, we have interpreted this to mean as an outcast or a bad person, but consider how Jesus treated tax collectors and Gentiles.

 

In every instance Jesus offers the outsider love, care, healing hope and compassion.

 

What a lesson. That even with those with whom we cannot agree, even with those with whom we cannot reconcile we offer love, care, healing hope and compassion.

 

You know I changed the wording of the New Revised Standard Version text to brother and sister instead of church member. In newer translations it says member of the church, so it won’t sound sexist, because the original term in Greek is adelphos meaning brother.

I changed it to brother or sister because I think it is so important to see those with whom we have difference as family, as brother and sister.

 

Pharaoh was unable to soften his heart, unable to listen until it affected his own family, until his own family was plagued and then he had new understanding.

 

What Pharaoh didn’t realize is that we are all one family.

That the Hebrew slaves were his brothers and sisters.

 

There is a story from quite a few years ago of a reporter in the middle of the Sarajevo crisis who sees a little girl get shot by sniper fire.

The reporter threw down his pad and pencil, and stopped being a reporter for a few minutes…He rushed to the man who was holding the child, and helped them both into his car.

As the reporter stepped on the accelerator, racing to the hospital; the man holding the bleeding child said, “Hurry my friend, my child is still alive.”

A moment or two later, “Hurry, my friend, my child is still breathing.”

A moment, later, “Hurry, my friend, my child is still warm.”

and then finally, “Hurry. Oh, My God, my child is getting cold.”

The little girl had died by the time they made it to the hospital.       As the two men washed the blood off their hands in the washroom, the man turned to the reporter and said,

“This is a terrible task for me. I must now go and tell her father that his child is dead.”

The reporter was stunned and. said, “I thought she was your child.”

The man looked back and said, “Well, I’m not her father, but this child is my child, they are all our children“

(from: Who Speaks for God?, by Jim Wallis,-Delecorte Press, 1996)

 

When Jacob Blake was shot in the back, our brother was paralysed

When Eric Garner was choked to death by the police, our brother was choked to death.

When the police put their knee on George Floyd’s neck until he couldn’t breathe and he died, that was our brother being choked and dying.

 

I will always be a pharaoh until the day I recognize we are all family and everyone is my brother or my sister.

Jesus taught us all the people of the world are our people

and all the children of the world are our children.

All are God’s childen.

Amen