Road to FreedomPosted: September 14, 2014
Road to Freedom
SLIDE 3: ROAD TO FREEDOM
The Road to Freedom is often a perilous and twisting trail. God asked Moses, “why are you crying to me?” as if the way forward was obvious. Maybe it was. Maybe the east wind had opened a soggy but passable way through the marsh, and all the people and their leader needed was a little courage to move forward. Often churches are like that, all we need is a little courage and faith to move forward. If we are looking for a red carpet to show us the way forward, we may be very disappointed.
SLIDE 4: COURAGE TO CHANGE
Courage is so often in short supply – especially courage to change. We often remain stuck, because we are afraid to venture out to take the risks of something new. As much as we may hate our situation, our slavery, at least, is familiar. So we often settle for chains rather than wings.
SLIDE 5: RAMESSES IN THE CAIRO MUSEUM
The Israelites were forever trying to shake off Egyptian rule. Even fleeing across the Red Sea, leaving Egypt did not guarantee they would throw off the rule of Pharaoh. When I made the journey to Egypt and Israel with Rabbi Ballon, I suddenly realized the extent to which the Promised Land had been occupied by Egypt. When we visited the garden of the Cairo Museum I took this picture of a statue of Ramesses the Great.
SLIDE 6: RAMESSES IN BEIT SHEAN
Then when we our group visited Beit Shean the ancient City that dominated the intersection of the Jezreel Valley and the Jordan River Valley I found another statue of Ramesses the Great in the remains of the house of the Egyptian Governor. Sometimes in the history of Israel going down to Egypt simply meant making the journey from the mountain tops down into the valleys.
The Road to Freedom is always more difficult that we first think. In subsequent weeks we will consider the stories of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness and their complaining that freedom was too hard. “Oh Moses, we don’t have enough to drink. Moses we don’t have enough to eat. Moses this freedom thing is just too hard.” Sort of like kids who declare their independence and then realize how hard it is to go to a job day after day and maintain their own living space.
SLIDE 7: DON’T MISS THE MIRACLE
And somewhere on the Road to Freedom, if we are not careful we will miss the miracle of God’s presence. There is a story of two Israelites who walked through the midst of the Red Sea looking down at their feet complaining they were getting their feet muddy. Surely someone could have found a better path. Their sandals were being ruined by all of that mud, and they never noticed the miracle of their escape, because they were so focused on the difficulty of the path.
How many times do we complain, “Oh God, why is life so difficult!” and we are missing the miracle of life itself. If we expect that life should be easy, we will miss the miracle of God’s sustaining love.
SLIDE 8: THE EGYPTIANS ARE MY CHILDREN TOO
There is also an old Midrash that describes the scene in heaven, when the last Israelite finally reached the opposite shore and then the waters returned covering the Egyptian chariots stuck in the mud drowning the horses and their drivers weighed down by their armor. One of the angels asked God, if the heavenly trumpeters should blow a fanfare of victory. And God replied, “No, no celebration today, for now I must mourn for my children the Egyptians. They are my children too.”
SLIDE 9: COURAGE IN THE MAKING OF MIRACLES
There is another Midrash that speaks of the necessity of our courage in the making of miracles. When Moses stretched forth his hands to part the waters, at first nothing happened. The people murmured and held back for fear of being drowned. Then a member of the tribe of Judah named Hur stepped into the water and waded up to his knees, but nothing happened. Then he proceeded up to his waist, but still the waters swirled around him. When the water reached up to his neck the people on shore were afraid he would drown. And it wasn’t until the water reached poor Hur’s nose the sea parted making a path for the Israelites to pass through to the other side. So, our courage and faith in addition to God’s action make the miracle happen.
SLIDE 10: LONG ROAD TO FREEDOM
The story of the Passover and the Exodus is the saga of the long road to freedom for humankind. Something happened to us, when we began the practice of agriculture. Pretty soon we had developed the notion of property and ownership, and the accumulation of goods and wealth. And then we discovered power, the power to take the property, the goods and wealth of others. The power to hold on to property, and goods and wealth and power itself. And within a few thousand years we had invented Empire – the power to consolidate and control vast amounts of land and people to exploit for the benefit of a relative few. The enslavement of a majority of people for the benefit of the elite. The demotion of women to the status of property. The use of power and intimidation to control others. We humans have been on a long road to freedom.
SLIDE 11: MIRACULOUS STRIDES ON THE ROAD TO FREEDOM
In the late 20th century and early 21st century we have witnessed almost miraculous strides on the road to freedom. The Civil Rights movement in the United States sought to end second class citizenship and exploitation on the basis of race. The Feminist Movement has sought to end discrimination on the basis of sex, empowering women to seek their own destinies and change the world. Who would have dreamed the Soviet Empire would fall apart, or that apartheid in South Africa would end without a blood bath. And now almost overnight it seems the GLBT community is overcoming the barriers of discrimination.
SLIDE 12: SET BACKS
Sometimes it seems like for every step forward, however, we suffer setbacks. A resurgent Russia seems to be trying to pull together the remnants of Empire. Islamic Fundamentalism is threatening the peace of the whole world. Even despite the passage of Civil Rights legislation, school desegregation in much of the nation is still stalled and African America teenagers are at ever greater risk. Income inequalities are growing throughout the world and even in our own country the wealth gap is growing. And with money playing an ever greater role in our political system the strength of our democracy is undermined. The road to freedom is long and difficult.
SLIDE 13: LOVE WINS EVEN OVER DEATH
The story of the Passover is the reminder that God does not abandon us to oppression. God remembers the people calls and sends leaders to bring them to freedom. Jesus incorporated the theme of the Exodus in his Last Supper with his disciples. When you gather at the Sharing Table in the future, remember me, and I will give you the courage, the faith the spiritual energy to change the world. When you break the bread and remember me you will know that love wins. Love wins even over death.
SLIDE 14: LITTLE PEOPLE CAN MAKE GREAT DIFFERENCES
Jesus calls us to make a difference in the world to push on down that freedom road. And don’t worry that God hasn’t called you to be a Moses, or a Gandhi, or a Martin Luther King, or a Nelson Mandela. God doesn’t always work through obvious leaders. Who would have chosen a bunch of Galilean fishermen to start a revolution? A poor peasant girl, Joan of Arc changed the face of Europe. An obscure monk in Wittenberg just wanted to discuss his ideas and ended up challenging an all powerful church. A poor seamstress, Rosa Parks, sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, because she was just tired. Little people like us can make great differences if we have a little faith and courage.
SLIDE 15: PERSEVERENCE IN THE FACE OF DISCOURAGMENT
On the Road to Freedom we also need perseverance in the face of discouragement. A number people have mentioned to me recently their sense of discouragement, because of what they perceive as a lack of progress and growth in the life of the church. Indeed, I experience discouragement. But think of Nelson Mandela 27 years in prison. Talk about discouragement. Or consider Martin Luther King or Gandhi both assassinated right when they were nearing success. God does not guarantee that any of us will arrive in the Promised Land. Like Moses and Martin Luther King we may have to be content with the view from the Mountain Top.
SLIDE 16: COMPLAINING IS ONLY A WASTE OF STRENGTH
Dr. Albert Schweitzer addressed this problem of courage and perseverance in the face of adversity. “Anyone who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll stones out of his way, but must accept his lot calmly if they even roll a few more upon it. A strength which becomes clearer and stronger through its experience of such obstacles is the only strength that can conquer them. Complaining is only a waste of strength. Not one of us knows what effect his life produces, and what he gives to others; that is hidden from us and must remain so, though we are often allowed to see some little fraction of it, so that we may not lose courage.”
So if we become discouraged on the Road to Freedom remember to take heart. None of us has had to endure prison for 27 years, nor have any of us sitting here today suffered assassination. And none of us knows the full affect our contributions have made. Complaining is only a waste of strength.
SLIDE 17: SOME SMALL PART TO PLAY
Each of us has some small part to play on the Road to Freedom. The way of Jesus is not marked by a red carpet. Rather we follow Jesus by taking one small step at a time in caring for others. So allow me to close with this admonition from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:
We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul — not the grim determination of gritting your teeth but the glory-filled power God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking God who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful God has for us.