Monday, August 23, 2010

Help for the Road Home: Preparation

Preached Sunday, August 22

Scripture Readings: Exodus 4:18-23; Romans 8:1-17

When my mom was a kid she and a friend of hers did an odd thing. She has told the story of it a number of times, and my impression is that she was a young teenager at the time; about fourteen or fifteen years old.

The odd thing about this story is that it seems more like the sort of thing that a boy would do. She and one of her best friends found a way to get into the city drains.

They lived in Venice, which is a district of the city of Los Angeles that was built along the beach. In winter, the city periodically has tropical rainstorms, and there is no place for all that water to go. So (many, many years ago) a system of drains was built, under the streets, to capture the water and carry it to the ocean.

These were not sewers. The sewers were completely separate. These were just purely drains. The main drains are big; more than big enough for an adult to walk through without stooping over.

Well, my mom and her friend climbed down into this system of drains and followed it. They didn’t know where they were going, but my mom feels that they must have gone for hours and for miles, until they came out into a large marshy area along the ocean.

Many years passed before she told her parents about this. I remember, as a child, having heard the story before, and then finding myself listening as my mom told her mom the story for the first time. I remember my grandma, my Baci, saying “NO!”

Now, there wasn’t anything immoral about what my mom did. It was just extremely foolish and potentially dangerous; and parents are supposed to protect their children (even their teenaged children) from doing such things. Children know this.

All kinds of bad things might have happened to my mom because she didn’t let her parents protect her. But, looking back, this adventure in the city drains is one of my mom’s cherished childhood memories. It is a story of the freedom of childhood; the story of children who have a home.

The Exodus is the story of God’s people going home to freedom. The odd thing about the story in Exodus is that the home in question (the place that would become known as the land of Israel) was a place where God’s people had never truly lived before. They had lived and wandered all around it, for generations, but they had never truly lived in it. They had always been outsiders looking in.

And after all this wandering on the outside God’s people had gone to live as slaves in Egypt for four hundred years. In a sense, slavery in Egypt was the only home they had ever known. But slaves are perpetual outsiders.

The fact that God had allowed them to spend generations wandering outside their true home; and then (on top of that) the fact that God had led them away from their true home, into Egypt (and then warned them in advance that they would spend centuries there in slavery (Genesis 15:13) is very odd.

Their true home was waiting for them. God really liked the home he intended for them. God described it to Moses as “a good and spacious land; a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3:8) But, for a long time, it wasn’t the time to go home.

There are a number of reasons why God didn’t let them live in their true home at once. For one thing, if they had all gone straight home, in the time of Abraham, there would have been no drama; and so there would have been no story. And maybe life is better when it has a story with drama.

For another thing, Abraham and his family, the first generation of God’s people, would have been completely swallowed up by their neighbors and disappeared. Again there would have been no drama and no story to tell.

So the story of the exodus and the road home is the essential story. It is the story of the move from aimlessness to home. It is the story of the move from slavery to home, and freedom, and identity, and character. The exodus is a salvation story. It helps us understand the meaning of what we call salvation.

In the end, the escape from Egypt was part of an escape from death. Slavery is a kind of living death. You can’t be yourself or know yourself when you are a slave.
And death was going on in the struggle between Egypt and God’s people. There were deadly plagues sweeping through Egypt, and the Hebrew people were spared from the greatest of these plagues because of a death.

It was the death of a lamb. In each Hebrew home there was a lamb that each family of the Hebrews sacrificed in order to provide the meal that would be their last meal in slavery; their first meal in freedom. A lamb died, and its blood was used to mark each of their homes, to ward off the plague of death that passed over all the homes in Egypt.

Jesus is the Lamb of God. The cross is the sacrifice of God, himself, who came down from heaven to be a human being in Jesus. He became the lamb who takes away the sins of the world and brings us to home and to freedom.

Home is our Father’s house. Home is where God is. It is heaven. Home is also life lived, here and now, with the freedom that comes from the selfless giving of God.

This is the truth hidden in the message that Moses was sent to give to Pharaoh, king of Egypt. In this message God calls his people his son. The message runs as follows. ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my first born son…. ”Let my son go, that he may worship me.”’ (Exodus 4:22-23)

Real worship is a relationship with God. Worship exists when we are in a living relationship with God in which we are truly free and truly at home. Without God we know nothing of ourselves, or of life, or of home.

The process of finding these things out is like the drama of a great story. Unless we know ourselves as aimless wanderers like Abraham and his family, or as slaves like the Hebrews in Egypt, we cannot understand the freedom that we have been created for.

The Apostle Paul talks about this freedom in his letters. In Romans chapter eight he writes about the slavery we live in when we live our lives separated from God, and the freedom we have been given through Jesus. “Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)

In a way, my mom’s adventure (no matter how extremely foolish and potentially dangerous) was a story about home and freedom. There was courage, and mystery in it. There was faith, and hope, and love in it. And this is what it is like to live with God. In some way this is our proper home, and this is also the road home.

At the place where we find Moses, in this part of the Scriptures, he was preparing to lead his people home. And, to do this, he had to return to the place he had left long ago: the place of slavery, the place so far from freedom, the place where his people had lost themselves.

It was a place where he had failed before. It was a place where he and his family would be in danger. It was a place where things could go horribly wrong and many people could be harmed because of him.

We see Moses prepare for this.

The first thing he did was to go to Jethro, his father-in-law, and get his permission to leave, and take his wife and children with him to Egypt. “Let me go back to my own people in Egypt, to see if any of them are still alive.” (4:18)
Now this was only a partial truth. It was a truth that deliberately concealed the truth. Moses wasn’t going to Egypt to see if his family there was still alive.

He would find that out, of course. But he was going, at God’s command, to face the king, and tell the king to let his people go. That was the main truth: the true truth.

The fact that Moses held back the truth is not an example to us. But one good thing was accomplished. Jethro could not talk Moses out of taking God’s road home.

It is possible that other people will try to keep us from finding our true home; the true life that God designed us for. The book of Exodus tells us that, at times, Moses was afraid. (Exodus 2:14) The Letter to the Hebrews, in the New Testament, tells us that, because of his faith, Moses was not afraid. (Hebrews 11:27) The point to this is that, when you look at Moses’ life as a whole, you see that Moses faced the king who had the power to kill him and his family and his people. Moses faced his fears. That is the real definition of courage. That is the courage that comes by faith.

When you are young you have to do this all the time. If you don’t face the things you fear, you will never grow up.

You can’t be afraid to take hard and unknown paths. You can’t be afraid to stand up for what is right. You can’t be afraid of what other people think. You can’t be afraid of peer pressure. You can’t be afraid of taking the road less traveled by. If you are afraid, you will lose the most precious thing you possess; which is your own unique personhood which God has given you in his creation and in his death and resurrection for you.

The same is true for all of us as we get older. We have new fears to face, and we must face them, or shrivel up in the face of them.

Moses prepared for the road home by designing his life so that he wouldn’t get talked out of it by others. We must all prepare for the road home by not letting anyone tell us we can’t do it.

Another way Moses prepared for the road home was by taking his family with him. The road leads to that “good and spacious land, flowing with milk and honey:” It leads to God’s freedom in Christ. If we don’t share the road with others, if we don’t help the ones we love to walk this road with us, then we are being afraid again and we are not free at all.

My cousin Don (who is a much better Christian than I am) is a teacher. He has taught remedial classes. Currently he teaches an elementary class. His goal, if I can put this right, is to teach more than facts. He tries to teach kids how to learn, how to solve problems, how to see things through, how to build their sense of positive identity, how to be truly free in God’s sense of freedom.

Paul, in Romans, has more to say about this. “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.” (Romans 8:18) Sharing the road home with others shows how ready we are for home ourselves.
Another way that Moses prepared for the road home was by taking his staff with him. Only it wasn’t his staff any more. It was the staff of God. (Exodus 4:20)

The staff was Moses’ shepherd’s staff. He used it to control the sheep. At the fair this month we will see kids using something (a judging stick?) like the staff of Moses to control their animals in the livestock judging.

As a prince of Egypt, Moses may well have had a different staff in his hand; a fancy staff that was more like a royal scepter, and was a mark of his office and his authority. But Moses had lost that staff. That staff was the symbol for a whole way of life that was lost for Moses.

His shepherd’s staff represented Moses’ failure. It represented the story of Moses running for his life and making a new life as a foreigner in a strange land. Moses’ staff represented the story of his life.

After his meeting with God at the burning bush, it was no longer his staff any more. It was the staff of God. In the same way, his own life wasn’t his own life anymore, it was God’s life.

The staff represented the authority of Moses in his new life with God. It represented the same kind of authority that we have as God’s people. Moses had the authority of being a weak, foolish, vain, fallible human being, who was called to a better purpose by the grace of God.

Through Christ, and the dying and resurrection love of God in Christ, we all have this authority to live and to take others with us on the road home. We all have the story of the love of God that empowers us in spite of our weaknesses, and raises us up above our sins and failures.

The staff of God was no magic wand, but Moses would appear to use it as one: to turn it into a snake; to make all kinds of things happen; to part the Red Sea and make a path for God’s people, through the waves, on their way home.

All of us have a story to tell, and a life that has been changed because the Lord has made himself a part of it. This changed life, and this story of a new life, are like a wand in our hand that helps us pass through the waves and the barriers between us and home. We hold that story close to us for its help along the way.

We have a story. We have seen what God has done. We can hold onto it and live by faith.

There is more, but that’s enough for now. There is this preparation. Let us prepare by not letting people talk us out of our journey and our growth on the road. Let us prepare by having the courage of God’s freedom to help others become free. Let us prepare by keeping the story of the grace of God in our lives close to us, as evidence to help us live by faith. Then we will have God’s help for the road to home and to freedom.


  1. Thanks so much for your post! I loved your mom's described it so beautifully!
    I felt like I was there.
    To me your posts are always a great inspiration!

    And thank you so much, Pastor Denis for your wonderful comments on my blog! It really mean the absolute world!
    Always great to hear from you!

    Have a lovely day!
    B :)

  2. Sorry..due to the rush, I meant to say means instead of "mean".