The Breath of Freedom

Scripture can be found here...

There is hardly any civilization on earth whose history is untouched by slavery.

Last week, we talked about Jacob. As we come to the book of Exodus, hundreds of years have passed since Jacob walked the earth. It was through Jacob’s son Joseph that God’s covenant people found their way to Egypt during a time of famine, because Egypt was a land of plenty when people were dying of starvation in the Land of Promise. And so, God’s people settled there… undocumented immigrants in a land where food and shelter and work were available.

In the beginning, the immigrants were welcome.

But now it is hundreds of years later, and God’s covenant people, the Israelites, are seen as a terrifying threat. In chapter 1, the Pharaoh talks of how many, and how strong they are, and he expresses his fear that they will rise up and make war and take over. And so the Egyptians make the Israelites their slaves, and God’s people are put to forced labor, and they are beaten, and they are oppressed.

Those of you who were able to be with us for Messy Church this summer heard the story of the birth of Moses, and the threats to his life, and how the unlikeliest of people—the daughter of the Pharaoh—took him into her care.

Because he grew up in the Pharaoh’s palace, Moses identified as an Egyptian. He no doubt dressed as Egyptian men did, and wore his hair as they did, and shaved his beard as they did. But “One day…he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” (Exodus 2:11-12). Not long after that, Moses realized that his crime was common knowledge, and he fled for his life. He ran away to the land of Midian, a substantial journey—think, Endicott, NY to Portland ME, roughly. And on foot, most likely. Moses was a murderer. He fled the local jurisdiction as fast as he could, and went as far as he could.

He met a woman by a well and married her; his father-in-law was a local priest, to what god, we do not know. Moses took up the life of the shepherd, and one day when he went out with the herds, he saw something he had never seen before, and heard something he had never heard before: a tree, a shrub, turned into a pillar of fire, and the voice of God, calling him. God was calling another highly unlikely person, Moses, back to the place from which he had run away, calling a known murderer to return as the voice of freedom.

There is hardly any civilization on earth whose history is untouched by slavery.

Moses had run away from slavery, from the situation his people found themselves in. He ran, because he was in danger. And, for a time he felt safe.

But the safety of one person when others are unsafe is an illusion, because we are all connected. Moses is connected to his people, whether near or far.

The freedom of one person when others are slaves is a lie, because when even one person is a slave, no one is truly free.

And so God appears, as God so often does, in a desert place—whether that whether that desert is the landscape of Midian or the landscape of Moses’ fearful heart.

God appears in flame. Aren’t our hearts burning within us? Swiss philosopher and psychotherapist Carl Jung claimed that all of us, no matter who we are, or what religion we either practice or reject, have an inner experience of God, only he didn’t call God, God. He called God, “The whole-making instinct.” The Divine Reality, which appeared to Moses in a flame, is all around us, and also within us, and we all have the capacity to feel it, to sense it, to hear it, and to see it. God-within-us, which Christians call the Holy Spirit, is longing for us to be agents of wholeness.

Aren’t our hearts burning within us?

God appears to Moses, and says, “I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). I will send you to those who are in power, to take their power away. I will send you to those who are slaves, to make them free. I will send you to what is broken to make it whole again.

Moses, understandably, is skeptical. And he asks a very reasonable question: Who am I, to do this thing? Who am I, to storm Pharaoh’s palace? Who am I, with exactly zero soldiers to back me up, and a terrified overworked populace of slaves who don’t even know me?

And God gives the perfect answer: I will be with you.

Each time we come to the communion table, and especially on World Communion Sunday, we enact the eternal drama of brokenness and wholeness. It is a story even older than the story of Jesus, though he seared it into our hearts and minds and bodies by reminding us: the death of one person resonates in all people. And, in an utterly unexpected way, the death of one person, binds all people together. Jesus was broken, but by his brokenness, he makes us whole, he makes us one. And Jesus says to us, “I will be with you.”

I will be with you, when you come upon the flame that stirs you to action.

I will be with you, when you think, “I’m only one person—what difference can I make?”

I will be with you, when you understand that your freedom is bound together with the freedom of all people, and your safety is only as sure as the safety of all people.

I will be with you, to do this work of making what is broken, whole.

I will be with you, to do this work of helping those who are slaves to be free.

I will be with you, says the Lord, the God of Abraham Jacob and Moses and Jesus.

I will be with you, says the God of Sarah and Mary Magdalene and Dorothy Day and Rosa Parks.

I will be with you, as I am with all my people, for you are one.

This is the promise of the communion table: the promise to Moses, the promise of Jesus:

I will be with you.

Thanks be to God. Amen.