This is the first sermon for a series on the Book of Exodus. It was preached at Kerr Presbyterian Church by Rev. KJ Norris on August 30, 2020.
Today we are returning to the lectionary—to a collection of Scriptures that are used by pastors all around the world for Sunday preaching. As you probably know, the lectionary has 4 Scriptures every Sunday—an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a gospel, and a letter. We will often hear parts of all of these throughout the service, like this morning we started with the Psalm, but in particular, here at Kerr we are going to be focusing on the Old Testament readings for a while.
I’ve never preached a sermon series on the Book of Exodus before so I’m excited to do so. As you know the Book of Exodus is the second book of the Bible and I’m particularly excited to preach on it because is so foundational to our faith. So if you haven’t read it yet or if you haven’t read it in quite a few years, I want to encourage you to start today. The book is 40 chapters long, which is ideal.
We often talk about Jesus’ commitment to fasting for 40 days in the wilderness. Elijah also took 40 days to settle himself before God appeared to him. And the Ancient Israelites, as we will soon see, spend 40 years wandering in the desert. The number 40 is often given to us in the Scriptures as a set time to grow closer to God. So be encouraged to read a chapter a day for the next 40 days and see what God will do.
As I said, Exodus is foundational to our faith. By one count, there are 167 references to Exodus in the rest of the Bible. 167. Stories that are in the Exodus—God setting the people free, God raising up Moses as a leader, God forming a covenant with the people of Ancient Israel, God giving the 10 commandments, God walking with the people through the desert—not only are these stories fun to read and helpful to us as we strive to live in the way of God–these stories are also referenced over and over again throughout the rest of the Bible.
In fact, it is difficult to understand the stories of the prophets; Or the praises of the Psalmists; Or the words of Jesus; Or the teachings of Paul; Or the sermon in Hebrews; Or the illusions in Revelation if we do not know the Book of Exodus. All of these refer back in one way or another to things that happened in Exodus.
So as we all start to turn our minds towards fall, let us also turn our prayers to walking with God in a new way, through the Book of Exodus. Amen? Amen.
Our reading today comes from Exodus 1:8. You may know from the Book of Genesis that a severe famine came to the region where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had lived and so Jacob’s sons—and he has 12 of them, come to live in Egypt. At first they are welcomed as immigrants into the land of Egypt but over time, things change. And that’s where the Book of Exodus begins.
Let’s pray together before we listen to the Scriptures. (Prayer).
Read Exodus 1:8-2:10. This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Who do you identify most with in this story?
If you were to put yourself in a character’s shoes today, whose shoes would you fit into best?
I think most of us tend to put ourselves in the shoes of the Ancient Israelites. That makes sense because we who are Christian identify ourselves as ones who God has rescued. Most of us know that we would not be who were are today if God had not set us free. God sets us free from sin and death. God has liberated many of us from addiction or from one of the seven deadly sins which held us captive—anger, greed, lust, etc.
We know what it feels like to be liberated by our Lord Jesus Christ so we automatically put ourselves in the shoes of the Israelites.
However, as I was praying this week and looking into my own heart, I realized that I actually have a lot more in common with the Egyptians than I do with the Israelites.
The Israelites had to flee their homeland because of a famine and are now at the mercy of a foreign government. I’ve never had to flee my homeland. In fact, I’ve rarely had a time when I went hungry. I did have a time in my life when I was out of work and relied on food stamps and a food bank to get me through; there is no shame in seeking help when we need it, and I know that many of us have needed to seek out help. But there has never been a time in my life when I didn’t have a safety net. When there wasn’t a way out. When I had to flee my country to survive.
And I didn’t grow up like Moses. Moses grows up under this regime which wishes him dead. The powers of his day thought that his very presence—the presence of a male who looked a certain way and had a certain accent and was from a certain area and worshipped a certain God—that presence by its nature was seen as dangerous. It didn’t matter who Moses was as an individual, he was part of a collective who were understood to be dangerous and therefore could be killed by any means necessary.
I didn’t grow up like that. My mother never needed to conceal me in a basket to keep me from begin murdered by ones in charge.
And as an American, I was always told I could be anything I wanted to be. I could pursue what we call the American dream—I’ve always been free to live my life, to go to school, to pray, to try new things. I’ve not always been successful at the things I’ve tried to do, but no one ever did to me what was done to the Ancient Israelites. Our Scripture says that the Israelites’ lives were “made bitter with hard service” (Exodus 1:14).
These are not my experiences. So while in many ways it makes sense for us to identify with the Ancient Israelites, I would submit to you today that I have a lot more in common with the Egyptians than the Israelites.
I’m part of a nation which has power to set the laws. I am part of a nation which builds great buildings and roads. I am part of a nation which chooses whose voice is heard and whose is not and who chooses who gets to be a citizen and who does not. I’m part of a nation which wants for very little.
And honestly, I don’t like this realization. I don’t like it, because I know how the story ends. We know how the story ends. We know that God stands on the side of the Ancient Israelites. God stands on the stand of the poor and the oppressed. God stands on the side of those who are marginalized.
So, prayerfully, as I realize I have much more in common with the oppressor than the oppressed, it really makes me uncomfortable. I want to stand with God. I want to be where God is. I want to follow God and have God set me free. So when I realize that I am much more in the situation of the Egyptians than the Israelites, I have to read this story differently.
I have to read this story like I am Pharaoh, not Moses. I have to learn why Pharaoh does the things he does so that I can learn to do better. So that I won’t make the same mistakes. So that I can stand where God is instead of pretending that God is on my side.
We don’t control God. God stands where God stands. We have to go with God—it doesn’t work the other way around.
For me, that changes this story. It makes it harder to accept. We want it to be about our liberation, but if we hear the words of Exodus, we may find that it is actually about our judgement.
So, we have to ask ourselves today, how did Pharaoh become an oppressor? How did he find himself standing opposite to God’s plan and purposes? And how do we make sure we are standing on God’s side?
Well, look back with me at chapter 1 verses 8-9. It’s subtle, but the Scriptures explain the three things that happened that led the Egyptians to oppress others.
Read Exodus 1:8-9.
Do you see what happens?
First, those in power stop listening to those who do not have power. Pharaoh didn’t know Joseph.
If we do not listen to one another’s stories, we are bound to think ill of one another. If we want to stand on God’s side, our first step must always be to listen.
This is really hard in our day and age. We have become very polarized.
We can blame this on a lot of things but I do think part of it is the media. Many of us have a favorite news source that we listen to. And that news source has convinced us that only it tells the truth. Only they have the real story.
And so we only listen to the story they tell. In reality, our news has become very one-sided and sensationalized and if we don’t listen to multiple news sources, we won’t get the whole story. It’s even worse if we get our news from social media platforms like Facebook.
By definition, Facebook gives you stories that they think you will be interested in. So whatever you click on, you will start to see more things like it. If you click on an article about a person going into outer space, Facebook will show you more articles about people traveling into outer space. Pretty soon you may start to think that everyone has traveled to the moon but you. Of course, we know this is not true, but if we see things enough time we begin to believe that they are common.
We stop listening to all the voices and only hear certain ones. We stop hearing all the stories and only see one side of a particular issue.
This is what happened to Pharaoh, too. He stopped listening. He didn’t know the story of the Israelites. He didn’t understand them because he didn’t try to know them.
How much time do you spend getting to know those who have a different perspective than you? How much time do you listen to those who have a different skin color or a different language or a different gender or a different income level or who are from another area?
And specifically, how much time do we spend listening to those who are suffering? Those who have lost a child? Those who are crying out for help? Those who long for justice? Pharaoh stopped listening, and this was his first step to not knowing the will of God.
After that, Pharaoh decided that there was an “us” and there was a “they.” Instead of recognizing that all people were made in the image of God; instead of doing what his father had done and recognizing that the immigrants could bring new ideas and energy and strength to the nation, Pharaoh saw the new comers simply as “other.”
They didn’t look the same. They didn’t speak the same. They didn’t worship the same. And instead of seeing diversity as strength, Pharaoh could only see an “us” and a “them.”
We as Christians know that our call is to understand that we are different and that this is part of God’s good plan and purpose. In our other lectionary Scripture for today, Paul is speaking to the early church in Roman, a church that is incredibly diverse, made up of people who don’t usually get along with one another and he explains to them that they are one body.
I’m quoting from Romans 12:4-5: “We, who are many are one body in Christ (5). For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function (4).”
We aren’t created the same. We are different. As different as a hand is from a foot. Or perhaps more explicitly, as different as an eye is from a liver. If we think we only need people who look like us and think like us and speak like us in our lives, we are believing a lie. According to Paul, that would be just like thinking our whole body would function if it was nothing but a whole bunch of eyes all mashed together.
It simply doesn’t work. We need one another.
There is no “us” and “them,” there is a beautiful diversity and we want to see that diversity and respect that diversity, but there is a call to unity within that diversity.
Pharaoh becomes an oppressor by 1st not listening to people who are different from him. By 2nd believing the lie that there is an “us” and a “them” instead of seeing how diversity brings completion and strength.
And then third, once Pharaoh comes to believe the lie that there is an “us” and a “them,” he fears the “them.” Verse 10 says (read).
I listened to a lot of speakers at the National Conventions this week and last week. The thing that both conventions have in common is that they want you to believe if you vote for the other side, you have something to fear.
“They”–the other side, which ever other side you are listening to–”they” will harm the country. They will overrun things. They will not have your best interest at heart.
Fear is a powerful motivator. And when we begin to fear, especially when we fear people who are different than ourselves, we are not standing with God who is God of love, not of fear.
We are out of time for today, but I will end the way our Scripture ends, with a word of love.
Women in this day where being asked to be murderers. They had power as midwives and had been given the authority to kill. But they wouldn’t. Yes, it was legal for them to “keep the peace” by making sure that the “other” did not become too powerful, but they wouldn’t. They stood on the side of the oppressed. They stood on the side of love.
And out of that love comes the rest of our story.
The same is true for us. As we find a way to love across boundaries, across unjust laws, across terrible situations where we are lied to about one another. As we seek the way of God and love despite all that is happening, God breaks in.
So today hear the words of warning: If we want to stand on God’s side, we must commit ourselves to lives where we listen, where we see one another as one body not in divisive terms, and where we choose love over fear.
And as we hear that warning, we wait and see for God is at work.