September 10, 2023
Scripture Reading: Exodus 12:1-14
As you know, we’ve been hanging around in the Old Testament for quite a few weeks – maybe since June sometime! I love the Old Testament and its stories. The lives of these early followers of God are so relatable and fascinating! But not just every pastor spends this kind of time in the Old Testament because the times were so very different from ours and the theology was different, so early in its formation. I like to think we are more advanced in our understandings but sometimes I’m
not so sure.
The other reason preachers avoid the Old Testament is readings like this morning’s! I’ve called it a “Sticking Point” but it may be more like a stumbling stone or a briar patch because you just know you’re not going to get out of here without some sore spots. I almost skipped this week, but my conscience wouldn’t let me!
To be fair to the text, there are some very helpful and significant pieces in today’s reading:
- This ritual described here in Exodus 12 is the beginning foundation for the Jewish Passover and for our Maundy Thursday celebrations and meals! We’ve Christianized it but long before Jesus, it was a celebration of God’s deliverance from all sorts of bondage. It has become a promise of the hope of freedom from all sorts of slavery for Jews and Christians alike.
- It has become for Christians a reminder of all that Christ’s death on the cross has meant to us. The blood on the doorposts and the blood Jesus shed on the cross have become symbols of God’s desire to set us free from the bondage of our own sinful behavior and life directions that are like chains that keep us bound.
These are two of the very positive lessons from this text, but when you look at this story honestly and with an attempt to put yourself in the place of the Egypt’s first born children, the Egyptian parents, or the Hebrew parents who neglected to get the blood of a lamb sprinkled on their doorposts, you shudder in horror at what you read.
Of course, I’d be the first to admit that nobody should escape the hand of justice when the Pharaoh sends out an edict saying that all boy children of the Hebrews should be tossed into the Nile. There is nothing right about enslaving innocent people because they are immigrants. And – after all of that mistreatment, who wouldn’t feel just a little bit of warped pleasure when your enemy suffers. But the text says, in the very voice of God: “12:12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down (most translations say ‘kill’) every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.” This is a picture of God that I cannot comprehend. It is a picture of a bloody, vindictive God in stark contrast to the God that Jesus introduced us to. This scene, and others like it in various parts of the Old Testament have been major sticking points for people in search of a spiritual home and a starting place for their spiritual journey. I get it.
I honestly would like to ignore these things but I can’t. I would like to lay out for you a clear, simple, convincing argument that would settle the conflict between an angry God like this in contrast with a God of love, forgiveness, and justice. I don’t know how to do that. I would love to give you a logical, indisputable solution to this moral and spiritual conundrum but I have come to believe that life is not constructed in such a way as to always give us clear, clean logical explanations. And, my experience is that there are times when we must choose a way at a crossroads where there does not seem to be indisputable directions. It isn’t fair, and I’m sorry, but there it is!
I have faced these sticking points myself. I have struggled in vain to find answers where there are no question marks and I so clearly remember the time when I had to choose anyway! Whenever I would find a way to travel where the questions seemed to have answers that satisfied me, I soon encountered another section of the journey where the questions were unsolvable – at least by me and at least in the moment!
I’m not sure, but I believe my dilemma is not so unusual. I remember that I came to the place where I had to choose with only my limited understanding and with a God who is so beyond my grasp that it is like an ant trying to comprehend fully an elephant. Not without evidence and logic, I decided that I would rest in the following things I could not prove:
1) There is a God and that God is a God of the purest love, mercy, and justice. I cannot believe that God is less than that.
2) This God is Creator and Creating and this God is also Mystery. Meaning: God is infinitely bigger than me and bigger than my mind. I am not built to fully comprehend the length and breadth, height and depth of God. Neither can any other human
being – no matter how much they claim.
3) This belief of mine is right for me for now. There is plenty of space in this belief of mine for growth and change because my spiritual life is a living thing, constantly evolving.
I offer this path of mine with the utmost humility. I know it isn’t everyone’s solution to these sticking points in the journey of faith. If you find a better way, then go with my blessing. But I say to you: “No matter who you are or where you are in your journey, you are welcome here.”