Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church


Exodus 12:1-14

When I went on the internet early this morning… I saw an advertisement offering two nights at a hotel for free. Now if I only knew when we will have to evacuate… I could make some reservations… and be prepared!

Last year… at about this time… I seem to recall that I spoke to you about Betsy… and you all know exactly who I mean… don't you? After worship that day Sonny Knobloch told me a story about how he first encountered the people of this church as they handed out clothing to people who had nothing dry to put on. As the head of Civil Defense… he had been up for many hours… wading around in deep water. When he came into this building… some kindhearted soul asked how they could help him and he asked for a pair of dry socks. He began to attend this church because he was offered … and received… a pair of dry socks. These many years later he and Jewell continue to be faithful members of this church because God used you in that difficult time to reach out to this community in love with much needed assistance.

What year did Besty occur? In this area we tend to reckon time by our last significant hurricane experience… and so too… did the Hebrew people reckon time by this catastrophic experience that came to be know as the passover.

My first thought… as I read this passage early in the week… was "how are we going to identify with this story?" We are a Caucasian… Gentile… American congregation… and we ourselves have never experienced slavery. But then it suddenly occurred to me that we certainly could identify with having to leave our homes… and all our possessions… at a moment's notice… and get on the road to who knows where. Last year was my first evacuation experience… and it was a nightmare. I imagine that I speak for all of you when I say, "I am not looking forward to repeating the experience again this year!"

Moses tells the people… "Folks, the Lord God is going to set you free. You are about to begin a new life… from now on you will measure time from this event. Tomorrow you will leave behind everything that you have ever known… your home… your possessions… your old way of life. Your new life… as God's people… will begin… and you are to follow Him… unburdened by the old life… walking forward in faith into your new life… on the road to the promised land." What a nightmare… what an adventure!

Well… perhaps that's where the similarity between our experience with hurricane evacuations and their departure from Egypt comes to an end. We leave reluctantly… with fear and trepidation… knowing that when we return we may have to start over again. For us it is a nightmare… because we don't know the outcome. They… no doubt also left with fear and trepidation… but they knew for certain that life would never be the same again. They did not know the outcome… they traveled on faith alone… faith in God's promises made over the years to their ancestors… and to them it was an adventure! Theirs, indeed, was an undertaking involving danger and unknown risks following a remarkable experience.

In recent months… in the land of Egypt… there had been several catastrophic events… now known as the ten plagues. First the water had turned to blood… then they were over run by frogs… then gnats… then flies. Eventually their cattle started to die. Then there was hail… locust… and darkness. And the really amazing thing about all of this is that it did not happen to the Hebrews who lived in the land of Goshen right next door to Egypt. All of this came about as Moses tried to convince Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go free. The final plague was the most horrible… and the most amazing.

Sometimes we read the Hebrew Bible and wonder… "How could God do such horrible things to people?"… forgetting entirely that we have turned against Him… and we all deserve punishment. I have a theory about the story that unfolds in the Old Testament… which, of course, may or may not be accurate… but I'll share it with you anyway. It seems to me that since God is Spirit… and cannot communicate with us directly… that He has tried in various ways throughout the history of humankind to get his message across to us… the message we now call the "gospel" or "good news"… the message that we are loved and forgiven and welcomed back into his family.

What happened in this story… the Hebrews being rescued from their old life of slavery… is a metaphor for our deliverance from the captivity of sin. The old life is like living in slavery… we are captives… to our human frailties… our sinfulness… our society's standards. Our wants… our wishes… our desires... these are the things we find difficult to let go… to leave behind… to walk away from. Think about how difficult it is to walk away during an evacuation… leaving all our personal possessions behind… knowing there may be nothing left when we come back. Sometimes we are tempted to stay behind… in the hope of somehow protecting our possessions. Our old life of sin has that same appeal… that same attraction… that same seductiveness. At the very least… it has the allure of comfort because we are familiar with it… we know how to act … and what to expect… even when the results are disastrous to our wellbeing. We risk our spiritual lives by clinging to the old ways.

The message to the Hebrews… and to us today… is that God is a saving God if we are willing to follow His lead… into the unknown… into the new and strange way of life that we call salvation… the life lived in faith… putting God in His rightful position… ahead of us… leading us onward. Some of us go willingly… some go kicking and screaming… and some refuse to go at all. But the offer still stands… and that's called forgiveness. You may have refused the invitation in the past… you can receive it today. You may be kicking and screaming… no matter… God's love will lead you on in spite of yourself. You may be stuck at some waterhole along the way… it's time to strike out once again and get on the road.

Today we celebrate communion just as the Hebrews have celebrated Passover for these many, many years. We too have been passed over… spared our rightful punishment of eternal separation from God… because of the blood. We too have been saved by the blood... not the blood on the door post this time... but the blood shed on the cross. We too are invited to begin anew... and to go out into the world as new persons… as God's children… following our Lord… and loving others. Let us commemorate this day by celebrating our new life in Jesus Christ. Amen.

A Sermon Preached on September 5, 1999.
The Rev. Shirley R. Frazier
Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church, Arabi, LA

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