Monday, July 26, 2010

"Help for the Road Home: Unquenchable Light"

Preached Sunday, July 25

Scripture Readings: Exodus 1:1-2:10; Ephesians 4:17-5:2, 5:8-17

God’s people in Egypt were going home, at last, but they didn’t know it. They had never been home before. They had never known what it was like to be at home. They knew nothing about home.

God had promised them a home, long ago, but (for generations) they were not allowed to do any more than wander around and look in the windows of the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, like a bunch of peeping Toms.

The people of Israel were God’s own people. They had been promised a home, but they had wandered for generations around the desert fringes of that home where other people lived. They tried to imagine that this is what home was, but they were wrong. They were wrong because they knew nothing about home.

Then, during years of drought and famine, the Lord led them into Egypt. At first they were welcome there. They tried to pretend that Egypt was their home. But they were wrong because they knew nothing about home.

Then they became unwelcome, and the Egyptians had made them their slaves for four hundred years. They had begun to settle into the notion that, maybe, this was what home was. But they knew nothing about home.

It was almost time for God’s people to go home, but they didn’t know it. Egypt adopted a policy of genocide for their Hebrew slaves. Even the Hebrews knew that this didn’t look like home.

It looked like the end. The Egyptian government made it their policy to exterminate all male Hebrew babies. In a generation there would be no one left to find the home that God had promised them.

The genocide law was doomed to fail. God’s people would not be destroyed. The law would be abolished; but a Hebrew baby who should have been killed under that law lived instead, and grew up as a prince of Egypt named Moses. Moses would take God’s people home.

It would be nothing short of a miracle, but it would be a painfully slow miracle. The miracle would take years, would take decades; would take until the end of Moses’ long, long, long life. And Moses, himself, would never make it home. He would live to see it from a distance, but never walk over the threshold of it.

The story of God’s people is always the story of the road home. It’s a long, long, long road, so the story always seems to be about the road, and not much about the arrival.

Sometimes the story of the road tells us that God’s people often make the road seem longer by traveling the wrong way, by going backward. The story is often about God’s people traveling from place to place on the way home, but the real home is not a place. Home is a relationship.

The real point about the road is that God is there on the road as well. God is at home on the road. Years before the slavery in Egypt, God had told Jacob and his family (the core of the Hebrew people) when the famine was threatening their lives, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again.” (Genesis 46:3-4)

The key to knowing what home is… is to notice that God says, “I will go down with you, and I will surely bring you back again.” The key is, “I go with you.” From beginning to end, the nature of home is the place where God is, and God’s place is always with you, when God calls you by name.

Home is God being with you, even when you never seem to be anywhere but on the road. The road home is God’s road, where God also lives.

When God calls us by name, it is a call home. It is a call that puts us on the same road that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob walked. It is the road where Moses and his people walked. It is the road the disciples took when Jesus called them and said, “Follow me.”

There has never been anyone else on this road but followers and disciples. There is a home at the end of the road (heaven, and then a new heaven and earth); but (until then) our lives will be traveling lives, and most of this life will be on the road.
So, then, to be people of God means to be people of the road, and it is important to know that there sort of “ways of the road”, rules of the road.

I follow certain rules on the road, especially on long trips. I always have coolant, oil, jumper cables and a few other things in my trunk (not enough things). In the winter, I always have a heavy sleeping bag for warmth. In the summer, I travel with a couple gallons of water. There have been times when these have been very helpful to me; or to others I met on the road.

Those are just a few of my rules of the road. Another is that when someone is driving fast behind me I pull into the slow lane, or I pull over onto the side of the road as soon as I can find a good place to do it.

We can see some rules of the road working in the Hebrew slaves in Egypt; and in Paul’s good advice to his friends, in the church in the Greek city of Ephesus. I want to see that God’s rules for the road home are actually God’s help for the road home.

The point is help for home. It is God’s road and so it is also the road of grace. No one is called to the road except by God’s free and gracious love. No one continues on the road without the same grace. But God is love, God is the faithful God, and we should expect to not be able to travel the road without his help.

The home before us is God’s home. The road is God’s road. Life, as God created it to be, is all about relationship and intimacy with God. God wandered with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God went down into Egypt and slavery with their family. God would bring them back out of slavery into freedom. It is all about relationship, and intimacy, and the faithfulness of God; and also our faithfulness to God. That is the help for the road.

The New Testament takes this all farther and deeper. Paul says, “Be imitators of God, therefore as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1) This is strong language. “Be imitators of God.” “Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us.” Do you realize that if this was a matter of rules, and nothing more, that it would all be hopeless?

But this is not a matter of rules. This is a matter of grace; a matter of help. This is what the Lord gives us in Christ, and “in Christ” is another key. We are in Christ and Christ is in us, with all the fullness of his Father and the Holy Spirit; because of Jesus offering himself for us in love on the cross.

Paul says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8) To be on the road is to be “in the Lord”. To be on the road is to be actually in the life of God. Paul says that people commonly harden their hearts to God, and so they “are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God.” (Eph. 5:18) But that is not how it is supposed to be.

I believe this tells us that there is a kind of light operating in the hearts and minds of those who do not harden their hearts; and this keeps a steady light shining in their lives, because, then, they are not separated from the life of God. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul says, “For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3) There is a great, small book from the seventeenth century called “The Life of God in the Soul of Man” (by Henry Scougal). This is what life on the road home is about: the life of God in human souls.

There is a light that shines in the lives of those who have been called by God, by name; and that light is not lost or given in vain. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes the working of this light in many ways: being truthful, controlling anger so that it does not take over, not giving up to bitterness, being kind and compassionate, not misusing yourself or others, as if your bodies and your lives were just things to play with.

Paul says to “make the most of every opportunity” or “redeem the time”, which is a way of daring to live daringly with every day, no matter how dark that day looks. It means not being beaten down or warn down. It means not to live by cringing, but by knowing that the road belongs to God. This is living as “light in the Lord”.

In Exodus, we see this light working in many ways. The head midwives, who must have reported to the king on their obedience to the genocide law, protected the lives of the boy babies at the risk of their own lives. Moses’ real family hatched a plan to get the royal family to protect the life of their son.

What the midwives did works on a number of levels. Their standing up to the king and standing up to the law were an act of faith. After centuries of slavery in the spiritual darkness of Egypt there were those among God’s people who stood up for innocent lives, who stood up for justice against brutal, hateful, and godless laws.

The author G. K. Chesterton wrote, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” (“Everlasting Man”) They were spiritually alive. In their light they exposed and revealed the darkness that seemed stronger than they were. Their resistance showed that the power that threatened them was a dead power, and the power that motivated them was a living power.

Moses’ real family hatched a plan that put their son under the protection of the royal family. The king’s authority that was designed to kill Moses made him a prince instead. God’s help for the road home was there, working through them. Four centuries of slavery should have deadened their imagination and their ability to dare great things, but it didn’t.

The word “oppression” that is used to describe the policies of Egypt means “to bring them low” or “to beat them down”. The Hebrews, as the story unfolds, will often seem to be slave-minded and beaten-down people; but they were the people of God and so they would sometimes rise above it in surprising, daring ways. There was something in them that was not beaten down, and did not give up hope.

There was a light from the life of the faithful God who had not abandoned them. There was a light that enabled them to dare daring things for themselves, and for others, and for God. (See Joshua, Caleb, and others.)

People who can do that are “light in the Lord”. There is an unquenchable light from God: the life of God in the souls of those who are called by name and set upon God’s road. It is a light that exposes the darkness and shows it for what it is. It is a light that keeps faith, hope, and love alive. It is a light from the life of the faithful God who gave himself for us in Christ. The light is God’s help for the road home.