Christ Lutheran Community Church
March 31, 2019 Worship Sermon - "Rolling Away the Disgrace of Egypt"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Joshua 5:9-12, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
The LORD said to Joshua, “Today, I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.”
In case you don’t know, the disgrace of Egypt was slavery. For four hundred years, the people of God had endured the whips and chains of slavery in Egypt; until, with a mighty and outstretched arm, God liberated them. God brought them safely through the Red Sea, leaving Pharaoh’s armies trapped on the other side.
Unfortunately, the disgrace of Egypt didn’t end once the people had crossed the Red Sea. We know this because, again and again as they were journeying to the Promised Land, the people yearned to be back in Egypt. Freedom brought with it anxiety and fear. Egypt may have been bad, but at least they knew what to expect. As free men and women, they had to face their fear… and it was just too much for them. So the whips and chains may have been gone, but in their hearts and in their minds, they still cowered as slaves.
God had some more liberating work to do. In order to transform the people from slaves into free children, God had to make them a new creation. So here is what God did. God made gave them a code of law. These laws would help them create a just society where no one would be forced into slavery. Then God gave them manna to eat, but just enough to satisfy their daily needs, so that they would not give into the fear that leads people to hoard. The law, the manna, and the journey through the wilderness: these things helped reform the people into a new creation. It took forty years for this new creation to happen: forty years for the generation of slaves to pass away and a new generation to arise – one that had only lived in freedom.
Now, forty years later, the disgrace of Egypt had been rolled away and the people of God could enter the Promised Land and enjoy the fruit of freedom. Or at least that was the hope. If we continue to read through the history of the people of God, we see that those moments of freedom were interspersed with decades, and even centuries, of slavery… slavery to false gods… slavery to tyrannical kings… slavery to foreign empires. Freedom does not come easily to us human beings; it’s really quite hard.
Fast forward a thousand years to the time of Jesus. The people of God are once again slaves, this time to Rome. Like Moses and Joshua before him, Jesus was sent by God to help the people recover the freedom God intended for them. Like Moses, Jesus gave them a law to guide them to freedom. Like Moses, Jesus gave them bread from heaven to satisfy their hunger. But Jesus did more than that: he healed them and forgave their sins and cast out the demonic powers that were enslaving them.
There’s just one problem with what Jesus was doing. Whenever anyone tries to liberate slaves, they are going to meet resistance; and some of Jesus’ greatest opposition came not from the Romans, but from his own people, who worried that his radical behavior would only make things harder for them.
So when Jesus hears his own people – the scribes and the Pharisees – grumbling about his actions, Jesus tells them some stories. These parables were intended to open their eyes so that they could see the chains and the yoke of slavery that were burdening them. The story that we just heard from the Gospel of Luke is one of the best. It’s the story of two brothers making the long and painful journey from being slaves to becoming sons.
The younger brother is a slave to his uncontrolled desires. He wastes all his property in an unsustainable lifestyle and ends up truly a slave: naked, no shoes on his feet, no food in his belly, slaving in the field with pigs.
The older brother is a slave to resentment. Instead of claiming his identity as the first born son, he focuses on how he has been working like a slave without reward for his labor. He is angry at what he considers unjust treatment by the father… angry enough that he cannot enter his house and live as a son.
Can these two brothers, who are trapped in their own self-induced slavery, enter their father’s house and live as sons? Jesus doesn’t really answer that question for us. The younger brother does enter the house after the father embraces him; but what happens after the party is over, we don’t know. Neither do we know if the older brother turns away from his bitterness in order to enter the celebration.
The story is open ended… which makes sense because we are still living it. We human beings are still making the journey out of slavery. We are still being transformed from people in chains into the people of God. The yoke of our slavery is not quite as obvious as it was during the time of Jesus or Moses. We don’t think of ourselves as slaves to anyone.
But, think about this: just like the younger brother, our uncontrolled desires as human beings are leading us into bondage. We are squandering our inheritance, this beautiful world that God has given us. We are wasting our environment on dissolute living. If we human beings don’t change our ways, the time may come when we would gladly fill ourselves with pig-slop because that’s all the land will yield.
And just like the older brother, our self-righteous anger is leading us into bondage. There’s a lot of anger in the world right now. We are angry with our brothers and sisters of different political perspectives. We are angry with our brothers and sisters of different nationalities and races. We are angry with our brothers and sisters of different faith communities. And all that anger could so easily become a yoke of slavery. We could so easily trade in our freedom in order to ensure that these brothers and sisters don’t get anything more than they deserve.
We human beings are still slaves to these impulses. But God is still calling us to claim our identity as sons and daughters. The parable of the two desperate brothers is also a parable of an unrelenting father. The father leaves his home in order to chase after both the older and the younger brother. The father pleads and coaxes and comforts and embraces as he seeks to rescue his sons from their self-imposed slavery.
In the same way, God comes to us again and again in order to rescue us from the bondage we so easily slip into. Despite our uncontrolled desires and our self-righteous anger, our Father in heaven has not given up on us.
God continues to roll away from us the disgrace of slavery… and perhaps the most profound slavery oppressing us is our fear of death. As we approach Easter, it’s hard to read the words of Joshua and not to think of God rolling away the stone from the tomb of Jesus. Death has no power over us, and once we realize that, in the core of our being, we are no longer slaves to our fear of death.
God continues God’s liberating work and God continues to beckon us to fulfill our vocation as sons and daughters. What is our vocation? To become like the Father. Just as the Father reaches out to rescue his lost sons, so we are given the job of rescuing our brothers and sisters who are perishing. Just as the father seeks to reconcile his sons to each other and to himself, so we are given the ministry of reconciliation.
This past Wednesday evening, there was a candlelight vigil at Masjid Al-Medinah, the mosque on 69th Street. The vigil was held to stand in solidarity with our Muslim neighbors in the aftermath of the shooting in New Zealand. In a world where anger, resentment, and fear permeate social media, these opportunities to show our love and respect for our neighbors are so important. Here in Upper Darby, we are blessed to be able to make these positive connections every day. We can be agents of reconciliation every time we step out the door, healing the wounds of hatred and fear in our society.
This is our vocation, and we have the power and the authority to fulfill this vocation because we are sons and daughters of the Father who first reconciled us.
Christ Lutheran Community Church