Together

2 Samuel 7:1-17 New Revised Standard Version

God’s promise to David concerning his heir, who will be God’s Son and whose kingdom will endure forever

7 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” 

3 Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: 5 Go and tell my servant David: 

Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? 

6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. 

7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” 

8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; 9 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 

10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. 

Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 

12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 

13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 

14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. 

When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. 

15 But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. 

17 In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

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What can I pull out of today’s text that speaks to our situation?  According to my resources, this text is about God keeping promises.  That’s walking on thin ice in this time of COVID-19, civil unrest (real or conjured by the media), and approaching winter weather. What promises?  That’s pretty generic, even if it is a cornerstone of our faith.

In today’s text, God promises David that he will be the father, grandfather, great-grandfather, all the way to someone in the far distant future who will establish God’s kingdom forever. We know know, in hindsight, that God kept that promise in the incarnation of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. That is the most important promise ever made to any of us.  End of sermon?  No.

What caught my eye and my imagination was the idea of God not wanting a nice dwelling place. 

The other lesson for me is that we humans often make the mistake of thinking God is just like us.  We have to remind ourselves that although we are created in God’s image, God is not created in our image—-but we do try to give God the mindset of a human.  

We treat God as if God needs and wants what we need and want.  David assumed that God wanted a nice house like David’s house.  Was David trying to pay God back for his current situation as a powerful king living in a nice house? We humans usually assume that we owe each other for everything we receive.  I get groceries, I owe the grocer money.  My neighbor mows my yard while I”m sick, so I owe her a bouquet of flowers or a casserole.  Parents and children sometimes get caught in this dance; I raised you, therefore you owe me extra attention as I get too old to clean out my gutters.  

God does not operate like that. God gives and gives and gives and wants only our love in return.  Humans often expect something in return.  We have a hard time receiving gifts. “You shouldn’t have,” the host says when we show up at a birthday party with a box of chocolates. In some circles, entertaining was always reciprocal. When someone invited you to their home for supper or a party, you made sure to return the invitation by hosting them in your home for some occasion. So what does God do when we show up with a box of chocolates or an offer to build a nice condo especially for God?

God, in God’s wisdom reveals to Nathan in a dream that a permanent address is the last thing on God’s wish list. Nathan gives the message to David:

7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” 

 This is the verse that reminds me of our situation.  We have built places for God to dwell in, but, for the time being, we can’t use them.  For how many hundreds of years have Christians counted on meeting God in a specific building, be it a stone cathedral, or a frame building with a steeple?  How many hundreds of years have we scheduled an appointment with God in a specific building at a specific time?  

At the same time, being the confused contradictory people that we are, we sing songs about Jesus living in our hearts, we say that we can worship God on the golf course on Sunday morning, we claim that Jesus walks with us everyday.  

Here we are, each in our own homes, as close to God as we’ve ever been or ever will be.  “I have moved about among the people,” God tells Nathan. 

We are still a congregation, we still have Jesus walking with us.  Our building is not for God, but for our convenience.  We worship more completely when we are together, praying together, singing together, meditating together. We have the confidence that numbers bring.  By ourselves, in our own spaces, we are prone to doubt or we simply forget about worshipping God. It seems awkward or unproductive to set aside our own worship space during the day when we are supposed to be busy.  But as a group we reassure each other that we should and can worship without fear of judgement, without fear of wasting time, without fear of not “doing it right.” 

Here we are, worshipping in our own homes. However, because we all read the same sermon, pray and sing the same words of the worship service, we are still in community. We are still a congregation. We have a building, but we don’t need it.  We have an altar, we have pews, we have a piano, an organ, but we don’t need them. They are gifts, but these gifts do not have to be used.

Remember the Christmas gift or the wedding present you received and had to use when Grandma or Aunt Lisa was around, so you could  show your appreciation? God doesn’t think like that. God gives out of generosity, not out of keeping the score even, not for fake appreciation. God doesn’t guess at what we need. God knows.  

A caveat: church buildings are not useless. We sing a lot better when we can sing with each other and with someone playing the piano or organ or guitar or ukulele to guide us.  We get more accomplished for our communities when we can meet to brainstorm how we can serve the Kingdom.  The building gives us the greatest advantage when it builds community.  Perhaps the greatest loss during this pandemic is the inability to build community through potlucks and fish fries and car shows.  It has certainly been the hardest part of the pandemic for most people. We are willing to risk our lives for the sake of community. Worse than wearing a mask is not spending time in person with the people who love us, the people who amuse us, the people who inspire us.

In conclusion, the Kingdom survives. We have not lost our membership in the Kingdom, even if the door to the church building is locked.  We are still God’s chidden, we still live in God’s Creation, we are still building the Kingdom. We are finding new ways to build community and we are learning that some necessities aren’t necessary at all. Likewise, we are learning that what we once took for granted is now precious and worth our attention.

In this time of pandemic, this time of sickness of body and soul, this time of fear, the Church still stands, even if the roof leaks, even if the windows are cracked, even if the organ is silenced, even if the pews are empty.  We are known for our building, but let us be known more for the work we do for the Kingdom.  Dixon, Toronto people know who you are and what you stand for. You stand for the Church.  We have an address but we are not limited to four walls. Love God, love every other.  May these words restore and renew your faith in our Triune God and may you through your faith find comfort and strength to keep walking and working, talking and building for the Kingdom. Amen.

Believe It or Not, God Answers Prayer

1 Samuel 1:9-11 New Revised Standard Version

9 After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. 11 She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.”

1 Samuel 1:19-20 New Revised Standard Version

19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”

1 Samuel 2:1-10 New Revised Standard Version

2 Hannah prayed and said,

“My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God.
My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory.

2  “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you;
    there is no Rock like our God.

3  Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.

4  The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.

5  Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.

6  The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

7  The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts.

8  He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.

9  “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail.

10  The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king,     and exalt the power of his anointed.” 

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Have you ever played Monopoly?  We did, my brother and sister and I.  I don’t know how old we were when we received the game, probably for Christmas.  We choose playing pieces, threw dice and tried to accumulate properties.  The best part of the game was passing “Go” and collecting $200.  I was seldom able to buy property, let alone put on a house or a hotel.  

The original game was invented by Lizzie Magie in 1903 as a way to demonstrate that an economy which rewards wealth creation is better than one where monopolists work under few constraints. It makes me wonder what Mrs. Magie would think of our government’s current sweetheart deals with corporations.  

The system that the board game illustrates is a closed system.  Once the money is gone, it’s gone. There is not enough for everyone; some players end up with piles of pastel-colored money and some end up bankrupt. 

Hannah lived in a closed system.  The only way to be a real woman, to be a good wife, to have someone to take care of you when you lost your marbles was to have children. Hannah sadly had a closed womb in a closed system.  

In some ways she was blessed; her husband loved her and he had been able to have children through his other wife, so he had, metaphorically, passed Go, and collected the $200, that is, he had children who would care for him in his old age and who would carry on his name. But Hannah was not part of that.  She was without property and sentenced to the jail of barrenness and abandonment.

Have you ever been closed off from a system, from people, from happiness, through no fault of your own?  Have you ever been prevented from reaching your goals, from using your talents to the best of your ability? 

That prompts three more questions

Did you turn to God in prayer?

How has God saved you, helped you, encouraged you?

And—how have you thanked God?

Hannah turned to God in prayer.  She gave birth to Samuel. And, in thanksgiving, she turned Samuel back to God, so that Samuel could grow up to serve God in full devotion. Samuel did, in fact, serve God his whole life, as one of the prophets who led the Israelites into the greatest years of their nation. Samuel anointed the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David.  David became the ancestor, the great, great ad infinitum grandfather of our own Savior, Jesus.

God answers prayer. The answer is not always apparent to us. Hannah probably died before Israel became a monarchy. She did not know that a Messiah would someday arrive, directly descended from her womb.  

God answers prayer by making us the bearers of Good News.  

We do not always know how God uses us. Sometimes we can reflect on our lives and see where we touched someone with kindness, when we inspired someone, how we changed someone through what we thought was simply doing the right thing. Give God some credit. Just as God opened Hannah’s womb, God opens our hearts to make  God’s Kingdom present in the lives of our communities. Sometimes we serve within our own communities, with a helping hand, with a friendly conversation.  We never know how much good we do. A helping hand can allow the good deed to be paid forward. A friendly conversation can lift a person out of despair and banish their loneliness. Sometimes we serve beyond our communities, by our personal choices, such as choosing leaders who build God’s kingdom rather than their own, by making decisions that protect God’s creation or God’s people. 

As the recipients of God’s greatest gift, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, we are freed from the bonds of sin to stretch our abilities and talents and even our timid inclinations to bring others into the Kingdom. 

Let me reiterate: Hannah turned to God in prayer.  I don’t know how prayer works.  I don’t know why God doesn’t answer every prayer the way we thing it should be answered. But I know that God answers prayer in such a way that God’s Kingdom is established here and now, where it is most needed. The Kingdom isn’t needed in heaven—-everything is perfect there already. The Kingdom is needed here and now, the blessings of the Kingdom, the gifts of the Kingdom are needed in our own time, in our own place. The hungry need to be fed NOW.  The oppressed need to be freed NOW. The homeless need to be sheltered NOW. The hopeless need to be inspired NOW. The ugly, the disgusting, the losers need to be loved NOW.  That is what the Kingdom looks like.  Our forefathers wrote the Declaration of Independence with a kind of kingdom in mind. The second sentence reads : 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Happiness can not be pursued like a goal. Happiness is established not by the individual, but by the community. That is how we Christians operate: in community. We call that community the Kingdom. 

Hannah had only one earthly resource to help her achieve happiness, her husband, Elkanah.  He did not have the ability to give her the much wanted child, Samuel. God did.  Hannah turned to God in prayer. God answered not only Hannah’s prayer, but the prayer of salvation for all God’s people. 

Let us turn to God in prayer, not to ask for what we think we need but for what God needs. Let us ask God to make us instruments of peace and plenty.

I learned this lesson from my father.  Everyday he would rise early, get dressed, go out the back door and face east.  Everyday, he prayed, “God, what do you have for me to do today?”

That is how the Kingdom is established, by each of us praying, daily, in our own way to be the workers in the Kingdom that God is building. That Kingdom is possible because sin and death have been vanquished by the greatest answer to prayer ever, the death and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Through the incarnation of God on earth, we have the privilege and the power to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. How? Take it to the Lord in prayer. Amen.  

What Kind of God?

Exodus 32:1-14

1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 

2 Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 

3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 

4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 

5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” 

6 They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel. 

7 The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'” 

9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” 

11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 

12 Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? 

Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 

13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'” 

14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

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Whenever you read a passage in the Bible,  you should ask yourself, What does this passage tell me about who God is? 

The Israelites were asking a similar question. Who is God?  Where is God? They did not have Scripture to guide them. They had Moses.  But Moses was not able to satisfy their curiosity.  He was on a business trip, up on the mountain, talking to God.  He had been gone so long, that they feared he might not return.

When the Israelites could not complain directly to Moses, when they were tired of griping to each other, their bored, frustrated, frightened, ungrateful minds came up with a plan.  

Moses had been gone for so long that they had given up on seeing him. He had led them, against all odds, out of life-sucking slavery, saved them from a pursuing army, negotiated with God to make sure they had water to drink and food to eat and now…….now what?  

They didn’t want to camp in the desert forever.  They were tired of promises that seemed groundless.  They didn’t know what to do, but they did know that God had been the solution to major obstacles so far.  So, they knew they need God, or a god, but they didn’t know what kind of God.  What were they asking Aaron to make for them?  Were they changing their allegiance to gods they knew from other times and places?  Did they just want a physical form of God they have been worshipping? Were they creating a new god out of desperation?  What kind of God did they want?

Aaron did the best he could, which was actually pretty awful, considering that he was Moses brother, vice-president in charge of worship and the camp priest. He knew what would make them happy: he would give them something they could see and touch.  To make it important, he asked each of them to contribute some of the gold they had smuggled out of Egypt.  Gold was logical, since it was valuable. Certainly, a god that was made to be worshipped should have some kind of material value.  A pile of rocks wouldn’t cut it.  The people really did want a god of some kind, a god who was, in some shape or form, valuable, impressive, important.

4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 

5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” 

6 They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

They knew that gods expected to be worshipped. What else did they expect?  We don’t need to answer their questions.  

We need to answer our own questions:  What kind of God do we expect? What kind of God do we want?  What kind of God suits us best?

Preaching Professor Stan Mast (Calvin Theological Seminary) suggests that “people want gods they can see and handle and carry with them and, most of all, control.”

 It is ironic, is it not, that while we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), we twist that around to create God into an image that fits our limited human perception.  We act as if God is like us, not as if we are like God.  We take what we’ve learned about God and conflate it with what we want God to do. 

We make God into a Walmart, and present God with a shopping list of what we want.  We make God into a general and expect God to defeat or destroy whatever frightens or displeases us. We make God into a slavedriver and expect God to punish us for our sins. We make God into a social acquaintance and check in with God when we need some company.  We make God into a teddy bear, and snuggle up next to God when we’re lonesome. We treat God like the government, not wanting to pay any taxes, but expecting to have smooth roads and safe hospitals. We want God to be a magician and make hurricanes and wildfires and disease go away.

We forget that God created the earth and saw that it was good. Four times, we read in Genesis 1

10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good.

 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 

25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

We forget that God created us to love us.1 John 4:10 (NRSV)In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 

We were not created as an experiment; we were created to be loved. God loved us so much that, first of all, God put us human beings in charge of a most excellent creation. God loved us so much that God did not give up on us and destroy us completely. God saved a remnant in the ark. How many times we read in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) that God is ready to punish recalcitrant, disobedient people, and then changes God’s mind! Today’s text is just one of many examples.

9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”

But Moses pleads with God to give them a break. God listened: 

14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

It is by no means easy to worship a God who is not available through touch or taste or sight or sound or smell. That’s one reason our worship services are filled with beautiful music and words, one reason we make our worship places works of art. In our weakness, in our mistrust of something we can’t see, we demand to see something—anything. 

lt is very easy to place our trust in something we can see—the stock market, a gun, a house. It is likewise easy to place our trust in numbers—the number of people who support our sports team or candidate, the number of people who claim to be successful, the number of people who tell us what we want to hear, the number of people who tell us what to fear. In other words, we follow the crowd.

On the other hand, God expects us to put all our trust in something that we can’t prove.  We are asked to be loyal to something that cannot be taxed or sold. We are asked to rearrange our entire lifestyle around something that has no address, no bank account, no television network, no army. Hebrews 11:1 puts it succinctly:Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

 What do we have?  We have a Book.  We don’t know who wrote it. We know who inspired it. We know it has been fact-checked century after century, not for historical accuracy, but for spiritual accuracy.  What does this Book tell us about God? 

When we read faithfully, continually, with curiosity, with determination, we learn what God gives us that nothing else can give: Love.  God loves us.

Our day-to-day expereince is controlled by what the world gives us. Sometimes it is wealth. Sometimes it is death.  But above, beyond, within, without, we are who we are created to be: the recipients of ultimate love.  1 Corinthians 15:57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen

Bug Out

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.

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If we had been there, we would have felt the tension, the anticipation, the fear in the air.  

The Israelites had been slaves for too many generations. God had seen their plight, heard their cries and was preparing them to leave their homes.  They were leaving for good, escaping their landlords and employers, the Egyptians.  God had negotiated, through Moses and Aaron, with the Pharaoh.  Maybe negotiation is too mild a word; plagues, nine plagues had afflicted the Egyptians; the tenth would be the worst. 

The negations have failed.  There is no choice: go on strike. The only way to go on strike is to hit the road, the greatest exodus recorded in Israel’s history. 

God was preparing them to bug out.

 If you are not familiar with the term, “bug out,” here is how the dictionary explains it.

1 to retreat during a military action especially to flee in panic 2 to depart especially in a hurry I first heard the term from episodes of M.A.S.H. 

These instructions are for the last meal they will eat in this cruel place. 

After presenting the menu and how it will be prepared, God gave instructions on how to eat the meal: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.

Gird up your loins. Be ready to flee.  Have any of you toyed with the idea of fleeing your home?  My friends joke about it, but in uncertain times, maybe a little preparation is a good thing.The other day I made a list of things I would put in a backpack for my grandsons in case they had to flee.  

There are plenty of people who are much more prepared than I am.  We call them “preppers” or “survivalists,” and it’s interesting to read the advice they give in their websites.  In one list of the 13 most important things to have ready, the item that surprised me was sandbags—-because they stop bullets.  Of course, that requires some sand, too. I assume that will be available at the campsite. 

What would you put in your “bug-out bag?”  In my grandsons’ bags I’d put the following:  baby aspirin, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, vitamins, allergy medicine, cough drops, lotion, Post-it notes, pens. rubber bands, little magnets, screws & nails, duct tape, athletic tape, bandaids, Neosporin, baking soda, vinegar, a hymnal, coloring books and colors, markers, matches, and a pocket knife. 

I wonder what the people in the Western states had in their bug out bags as they fled the fires?  I wonder what the people in the Southeast put in their bags as they flee hurricanes? A lovely lady, a friend of the family, Mrs. Brooks, had to the flee the Nazis with her family. I wonder what she packed. I wish I would have asked her. And the refugees at our border, what did they pack as they fled drug cartels and corrupt landlords?

So, the Israelites were not the last to flee oppression or danger. There will be more. 

What is significant about this flight is that God sets up so that it’s significance will never be lost to the people. 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. 

This event must be remembered, because it shows the people who God is.  By repeating the ritual of this final night in Egypt, the people will always be reminded of the Great Rescue from bondage.

It is no coincidence that the Greatest Rescue of all time happened on the day after the tenth day of the first month.  The last meal Jesus ate before his death was the Passover meal, celebrated in the same way that it had been for centuries by faithful Jews. This time, the event became a new ritual to celebrate a real release from bondage, the bondage of sin. Jesus said, Whenever you celebrate this meal, remember me.  Remember what I am doing for you.  The next day, Jesus was crucified—and on the third day, even after he was buried, he rose from the dead.  It was not a magic trick.  It was not to spite the Pharisees or the Sanhedrin or the Romans. It was to free every one of God’s children from the chains of sin. We call that act forgiveness.

Today, thousands of years later, we repeat that meal. Jesus took what was at hand: bread and wine. Today we take what is at hand: Gatorade and Oreos.  Grape juice and Triscuits. We take these elements, consecrate them  and eat and drink them to remember that God has freed us, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the chains of death.

Ritual is an important part of our lives.  Ritual helps us claim our faith in ways that are public and tactile.  See the platen and the chalice. Hear the Words of Institution. Taste the bread. Smell the wine. Feel the texture of the bread, the smoothness of the wine.  Remember.  Remember who loves you. Remember who sacrificed His life for your sake.  Remember who walks with you everyday. Remember who searches for you, who brings you back to the safety of the flock. Remember.

God created us to love one another as God loves us. One of the hardest parts of the Pandemic is being separated from each other.. Our Christian community is so important to us that today some of us have risked our health, our lives to be with each other to share this Meal.  

 We need rituals to help us remember to whom we belong. Not to what we belong.  To whom  we belong. To an outsider, our rituals may seem pointless, boring, empty.  For us, rituals are the threads that bind us to each other and to what God has done for us. Eat. Drink. Listen. See. Touch.  Be thankful. Amen.