Sunday, October 8, 2017

"Remember, Restore, Renew" Sermon Delivered on September 10, 2017 at Ainsworth United Church of Christ

"Remember, Restore, Renew"  Exodus 12:1-14

Exodus 12:1-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
12 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down 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. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.


Building a community

Up until this time the people of Israel were a disheartened, beaten down, collection of discouraged individuals and families.  They were a people united by their common suffering under Pharaoh, but without a distinct identity or calling.  The scriptures tell us that they now lived under a ruler who did not know Joseph, their ancestor who had saved the country in its time of famine.  It is not hard to imagine that while the people heard the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and Leah and the promises of God’s love and abiding presence, they meant little more than quaint tales to be shared around the fire at night. The stories, and the God they talked about, had little reality for their daily lives, and little relevance to the challenges they faced.  The tasks for Moses and the people, were to unite as a people not only with a common past, but with a hope to guide and nourish them as they struggle for a better future.  Hope does not disappoint us says the apostle Paul many generations later.

Up until this chapter, Exodus has focused on the story of Moses: his birth, his initial encounter with the LORD, his reluctant acceptance of his call to be the Leader, the struggle with Pharaoh to free the people from slavery, and the plagues. It all leads to this climactic moment when God gives Moses specific instructions on how the Passover is to be observed. All of Exodus points to and centers on the Institution of the Passover and the liberation of the people.  The remembrance of this liberation is to be celebrated each spring and when the children ask,” What do you mean by this observance?” the elders are to share the story with the children and the people remembers, restores, and renew the covenant with their Liberating God.  The people who were once no people, remember they are God’s people. They restore the covenantal promises and commitments, and renew their fidelity to God and God’s way of liberation and justice.

Remember. Restore, Renew.

This Sunday is known as Faith Formation Sunday.  In our congregation, we start a new year of Sunday School instruction, and our youth embark on their confirmation journey.  Each year we commit ourselves to sharing the stories about our faith and accompanying our children and youth on their spiritual journeys. We do this not because we are bound by dead traditions, but because the Liberating God compels us to recall and invite others to join us along the paths of forming a liberating community of people who are compelled by a vision of the beloved community where those who mourn are comforted, the naked are clothed, the hungry are fed, the stranger welcomed, the prisoner is visited, the poor empowered, the sick healed, the thirsty given something to drink, the weak strengthened, and the oppressed set free.

So, when we hear the reluctance of the young and not so young to be present, we offer them not threats, but compelling testimonies in word and deed of what God has done in the past and is doing now.

When we are discouraged by not enough people willing to serve as teachers, assistants, commission members, we recall the prophet Isaiah who proclaimed to a weary people:

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
God does not faint or grow weary;
God’s understanding is unsearchable.
29 God gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint.


The annual recollection of their liberation from slavery reminds the Jews that they are called by God from slavery to liberation. The English rabbi Morris Joseph asserted that "Passover affirms the great truth that liberty is the inalienable right of every human being." Elie Wiesel (Vizel), the Holocaust survivor writer, who dedicated his life and writing to making sure the world would never forget the Holocaust and fighting oppression everywhere, once wrote, "I marvel at the resilience of the Jewish people. Their best characteristic is their desire to remember. No other people has such an obsession with memory."

That memory empowers the oppressed to tell the story of their pain as well as their resistance.  To keep in their collective memory their God, their covenant, and their purpose.

Multiple times in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures the people are called to remember.

Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, because the Lord brought you out from there by strength of hand; “(Exodus 13.3)

“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. (Exodus 20.8)

“So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and you shall be holy to your God. (Numbers 15.40)

“Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; (Deuteronomy 5:15)

“do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt,” (Deuteronomy 7:18).

“Remember the days of old, consider the years long past; ask your father, and he will inform you; your elders, and they will tell you.” (Deuteronomy 32:7).

On the first night of Passover, the youngest person at the table asks, The best-known quote from the Pesach Haggadah is, "why is this night different from all other nights?" This line is usually recited by the youngest person at the table.  And thus begins A retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the first Passover ( Pesach).


Restoration is the act “bringing back to a former position or condition” (Merriam-Webster). We restore furniture, cars, and, homes, because it is something to do and because there is something wonderful about objects in pristine condition.  For the people of God, we remember when things better, when our way of life were better, when the presence of God and justice were not a faint hope but a living reality.

After the destruction of the temple and the exile of people from the land, God’s people recalled a better time.

By the rivers of Babylon—
    there we sat down and there we wept
    when we remembered Zion.  (Psalm 137.1)

Now much of our dreams of a time when things were better, were simply that, dreams, or nightmares depending on where one stood.  I think of the mantra we hear today about “Make America Great Again”, and think that this mystical time that people recall and want to return to  were and are times of horror for those who were and are  oppressed: For those who were brought to this continent in chains, and kept in slavery and de jure and de facto oppression in the century and a half after legal slavery ended: for native people who land was stolen, people slaughtered, and language and culture decimated; for newer immigrants whose labor is exploited, and live in shadows and fear because of the threat of detention and deportation.

Yet if what we mean by restoration is a restoration of the dream of the beloved community; of the end of cynicism and the restoration of hope; the end of exploitation, and the restoration of the movement for justice, then let us restore our community, hope, and movement for justice.


“but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

As the people of God, we are called to renew our strength for the work of creating and living into God’s realm of love and justice.  This is long demanding work. Weariness, disappointments, and setbacks is part of the endeavor.  As the children of Israel grew weary those forty years in the wilderness and looked fondly on the days they were in slavery.  They became tired of that which they once marveled at, and saw the manna that God provided them each day and not comparable to the food they ate while they were in slavery.  In the book of Numbers we read:

“The riffraff among the people had a craving and soon they had the People of Israel whining, “Why can’t we have meat? We ate fish in Egypt—and got it free!—to say nothing of the cucumbers and melons, the leeks and onions and garlic. But nothing tastes good out here; all we get is manna, manna, manna.” (Numbers 11: 4-6 in The Message)

What they and we forget is the whole story. We forget the hardships and are tempted by the lure of comfort and illusion of power that the Empire waves before us.  Yet we must remain determine.

In his book Stride Toward Freedom, Martin Luther King writes about the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the struggle for justice that the black community engaged in for more than a year. People experienced many hardships in their struggle for justice.  Dr. King wrote about first day of the boycott:

I jumped in my car and for almost an hour I cruised down every major street...I saw no more than eight Negro passengers riding the buses. By this time I was jubilant. Instead of the 60 percent cooperation we had hoped for, it was becoming apparent that we had reached almost 100 percent. A miracle had taken place. The once dormant and quiescent Negro community was now fully awake

…The organization of transportation was an ingenious example of grassroots action at work. A plan for pick-up and drop-off spots plugged in volunteers to drive their own cars or donated ones, getting Black residents around the city.

Of course, a lot of people did a lot of walking--but it was with a sense of pride. As one elderly Black woman said, "Since I been walking, my feet are tired, but my soul's rested."

A reason for that campaign success was the mass organization of the people, and the commitment to a vision of justice. The nightly mass meetings informed and inspired the people: The peoples heart, soul, and spirits were renewed: “My feet are tired, but my soul’s rested”
We are embarking on a journey.  One which begins with excitement and anticipation, but will inevitably be met by discouragement and despair. We must remember who we are and whose we are, restore our vision of the beloved community, and renew our commitment to one another and to God.
Kaj Munk, was a Danish playwright and Lutheran pastor who was an early opponent to the German occupation of Denmark. His plays directly challenged the Nazi regime.  He preached against Danes who collaborated with the Germany.  He was arrested and killed by the 1944.  His words haunt and challenges us today:  He wrote:
"What is therefore our task today? Shall I answer: "Faith, hope, and love"? That sounds beautiful. But I would say -courage. No, even that is not challenging enough to be the whole truth. Our task today is recklessness. For what we Christians lack is not psychology or literature...we lack a holy rage-the recklessness which comes from the knowledge of God and humanity. The ability to rage when justice lies prostrate on the streets, and when the lie rages across the face of the earth...a holy anger about the things that are wrong in the world. To rage against the ravaging of God's earth, and the destruction of God's world. To rage when little children must die of hunger, when the tables of the rich are sagging with food. To rage at the senseless killing of so many, and against the madness of militaries. To rage at the lie that calls the threat of death and the strategy of destruction peace. To rage against complacency. To restlessly seek that recklessness that will challenge and seek to change human history until it conforms to the norms of the Kingdom of God. And remember the signs of the Christian Church have been the Lion, the Lamb, the Dove, and the Fish...but never the chameleon."


Holy God, you call us to righteousness and light. Teach us the undivided law of love, that we may love your children even as you do, love you with all our will and strength, and find our freedom in this blessed service, taught to us in word and deed by Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Rev. Kathryn Matthews)


Collect of the Day (from Book of Common Prayer, 1979)

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as

you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength,

so you never forsake those who make their boast of your

mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
© Cecil Charles Prescod 2017

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Let Us Begin Again: Epiphany Proclamation 2017