Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Faith's Underbelly - Joining the Resistance

Preached on Sunday, July 9, 7-9-2017

Scripture readings: Exodus 1:8-2:10; Hebrews 11:1, 23-27

Sometimes, when I hear people talk about events that happened long ago in their lives; toward the end of their story, they pause. Then, they sum it all up by saying, “But that’s ancient history.”
Photos along the Columbia and the Willamette Rivers
May and  June, 2017
I think it may be their way of saying that those old issues didn’t matter anymore, or that they shouldn’t matter anymore.
Personally, I love ancient history. I love ancient Greece and Rome. I love ancient Egypt. I think they matter a lot. I think that the people we call “cave men” and “cave women” matter a lot to us now.
In my own life, some of the oldest things matter. Some of the most important events of my life happened before I was born. They happened to my dad. They happened to my mom. These old events shaped what mattered to them, as human beings, and shaped their parenting of me and my sisters. I believe that such old events matter to God himself, and to his plan and his purpose for each one of us.
You may have no way of knowing how you are reaping the benefits or paying the price (because of me) of the events that happened to me before I was born.
Time is a creation of God, who has eternal purposes and loves. No matter how far back an event or an experience may be in the past, or how far forward in the future, the distance of time doesn’t change God’s purpose for it: to love it, deal with it, prepare for it, or work to heal it and transform it. We reap the benefits of that. And God has paid the price for that. It all contributes to his work for us. It all contributes to his love for us.
I love the Bible. It’s ancient too. It shows us what is real and what matters most. It teaches us who God is, and who we are, and what we can be when we learn to live with God, in his world, by faith.
In the Book of Exodus, we are jumping back in time to about fifteen hundred years before the birth of Jesus. It’s a time about six hundred years after the Lord spoke to an elderly couple named Abraham and Sarah, and made them into the beginning of his chosen people Israel, and into the beginning of us (his Church).
Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham, had been sold by his own brothers to slave traders who took him to Egypt. As a slave, in Egypt, Joseph served his master well, got put in prison, got out of prison because he had the interpretation of the king’s dream, and Joseph became Prime Minister for Life, of the great civilization of Egypt.
His brothers and their families came to Egypt and lived there for about four hundred years, without ever quite blending in. They were the worst kind of immigrants imaginable. They were only one of a whole group of similar immigrants who just would not blend in.
These unblended people grew and grew in numbers, until the Egyptians got scared and tried to control them by making them into slaves. Then the Egyptian government tried to set a policy of genocide by requiring the killing of all the male babies born to these people.
None of the Egyptian genocide policies worked. But the genocide policy did result in one baby, named Moses, getting put in the river, in a basket, and getting found by an Egyptian princess.  This princess raised Moses as her own son, and gave him a life of leadership-training, wealth, and power.
Moses was a worldly success, until he blew it all to pieces by identifying himself with his unblended, immigrant, slave people. His own people couldn’t understand what was with him, to make him do this.
Moses didn’t know anything about God’s intention for him to lead his people out of Egypt, into freedom, into a land of their own, into a life intimately shared with God though all the highs and lows of this life. His own people wondered what was with Moses, to so identify with them as to kill their slave-driver.
Moses, himself, could hardly have told them what it was with him. We know what was with him. What was with Moses was God.
His own Hebrew mother got the job serving the princess as his milk-nurse, but that was a job that, sometimes, in unusual cases, lingered on until a child was four or five. Moses seems to have had some link with his family long enough into his life to remember his true identity, and he must have held onto simple stories that a small child might recall: stories about the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
Moses had no plan. He had no concept of his own future task. The New Testament Letter to the Hebrews tell us that the faith of Moses, at that point in time, was a sorrow for the suffering of his people, a willingness to identify with them and to share their disgrace and suffering, and a willingness to know the God who had come to his people.
Moses ran for his life, but we are told that he ran with faith, and not with fear. Moses had just enough faith to know that he was right to care. He had, it seems, enough faith to know that God cared about his caring, and that this was part of his calling and purpose as a human being who belonged to God.
Moses and his people lived in a world where it didn’t make any sense to claim that such things were real. We share that same world today. The eleventh Chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews begins by recognizing this important point. It says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
We have to understand “the substance of things not seen but hoped for.” There’s no simple cause and effect that we can prove from faith. Faith doesn’t always make something happen visibly. Faith is created by the reality, or the substance, of what God is working for.
Faith is the protrusion into our souls of the reality of what God is doing and what God stands for. This protrusion creates desires and actions in us that we simply must follow, even when it is really hard and strange to do so.
What no one can predict or prove becomes the intimate, personal influence of a God who makes himself, and what he is, and what he stands for, real to us. We must obey, and that is faith, even when faith feels like a struggle.
There was no evidence to show that an influx of immigrants turned into slaves was the place to look if you wanted to see what God was up to, or to see what God is like. But God was there, caring and preparing the way. Centuries before this, the Lord told Abraham the story of the enslavement and the liberation of his future descendants. (Genesis 15:12-16)
What mattered to the Egyptians was the opposite of what mattered to God. What made sense to the Egyptians was the opposite of what made sense to God.
The midwives who refused to carry out Pharaoh’s policy of genocide, and the parents who hid their sons, and Moses himself, formed part of a holy resistance. They were God’s people and they showed this by becoming, in their lives, the evidence of things hoped for by the least and the most looked-down-on of people.
They joined God by faith. They joined God’s resistance to the world as it was, and as it is today.
We think that faith makes things happen, but faith is simply identifying with what God wants to happen, and with who God is and what God is doing. We care about the things that no one else notices or cares about because we know the love of God for us, and for all such invisible things, and for all such vulnerable things and vulnerable people.
Faith is taking the side of “the God of the least of things.” Jesus, who is God in human flesh and blood, is the Savior of the least of things. Trusting him as the savior of sinners is just an extension of this. This becomes our rule. Knowing and living with the God of the least of things and the least of people leads us to identify with a world that is not yet visible: the world that God is planning and building from the raw material of the least of these: including us.
Jesus wants us to know that he will recognize us as belonging to him by whether we have joined the resistance. Jesus told a parable which pictured him saying to his own, at the end of time, “’Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:34-40)
These are famous words and, yet, we often try to wiggle out of them. They don’t make sense, the way this world teaches us to see things, and commit to things. Only the faith that joins God’s resistance to this world has the ability to see what the world teaches us not to see.
Moses was one of the least of these. He was one of the babies that a king was trying to kill. He survived, and lived, and then he became an outcast and a lost cause. And yet, in God’s purpose, this “least of these” came back to set his people free.
God, himself, (in Jesus) became one of the babies that a king was trying to kill. In Jesus God became one of the least of these. He became an outcast; and the rich, and the powerful, and even those of God’s people who thought about their own goodness, and their own self-preservation and success, succeeded in killing the grownup Jesus, on a cross.
But Jesus (the God who became the least of these) used his own downfall to set his people free. He sets us free from the kingdom of this world and its values. He sets us free from the kingdom of sin and death.
The Lord became one of the least of these, one of the least of us, to save us. We need this, because we (each and every one of us) is another of the least.
Just as it was with the slaves in Egypt, we, in our own way, on our own, are the least of these. We fail to be what we are designed to be.
Faith is knowing that God is our God. God belongs to us because God is for people like us. This truth doesn’t make us great or powerful. This truth makes us loved, and honest, and compassionate toward anyone who is one of the least. This makes us members of the resistance, which is God’s side of the great conflict.
The least of these, in Egypt, were in a mess for a long time. Their mess lasted for generations, when you look at what the Lord foretold to Abraham.
The least of these don’t always receive visible deliverance and visible help. What they do receive is a God who will die for them. This God has died, for them. In Jesus, God has died for all of us and with all of us. So, in Jesus, God is most truly our God: The God of the least.
There is a song that says “Faith is the victory.” But it’s also true that faith is the battle. Faith is the resistance. This is what I’m calling “the underbelly of faith.” It’s the challenge. It’s the learning process: learning to trust and live by the truth of who our God is.
The lesson of Exodus, Moses, and the wanderings of his people, is that the underbelly of faith. This lesson of faith tells us that faith is given and learned in such a world as ours; with such needs, and dangers, and fears as we see in our world today. The truth taught to us by this story is that a world such as ours is the very place where we can find the real truth about God: that he is to be seen and known by faith at his clearest and deepest in just such a world as ours.

God is to be seen in the resistance, just as he is most clearly and deeply to be seen in the cross. That is where real faith begins. That is where our real life with God begins.

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