Wednesday, March 9

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent: "Disgrace of Egypt" and Reconciliation

Scriptures for the Fourth Sunday in Lent Year C, RCL:

“Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” Entering the land of Canaan for the Israelites was to come to finally achieve being freed from slavery.  The manna which was the provision of God in the wilderness came to an end once they were in the land of Canaan, the land of promise, the Promise land.  The words of Marin Luther King Jr. in the sermon the day before he was assassinated “I’ve been to the mountain top and .....and I've looked over and I've seen the Promised Land” echo here.  I can’t help but think that he also had in mind this passage in Joshua and the rolling way of the disgrace of Egypt.

I request your patience. What follows is a winding road.  The path I’m asking us to walk down has its dangers and at moments will look hopeless.  It may bring up fears, or shame, or guilt.  I request that whatever is brought up, that you let that come without judgement and without fleeing from what these words evoke. I encourage us to follow through this path, to come to a place where we can truly be on the path of reconciliation and liberation.  Some of what may be evoked in you as I guide you through this path is that the Kingdom of God, the Promised Land remains for all of us uncharted territory, and may always remain so, because that space is about union and unfettered relationship with each other through God whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are to our thoughts.

I’m walking a tight rope of interpretation.  I want to encourage us to hear our texts and the story of the people of God, and yet at the same time there are ways of interpreting these stories and text that will inevitably lead us away from Christ, or towards a Christ of our own invention. we can too readily identify with Israel and miss how we aren’t Israel and how we are connected to Israel, if Gentiles. For White Christians this danger is an already realized fact of our interpretation of Israel.  We see ourselves as Israel when we have actually been Egypt, when it is the system created by European Christians as white that created the conditions of Israel in Egypt for African people as we enslaved them and justified it through appropriating to ourselves the identity of Israel. Europeans justified slavery in part by seeing themselves as the new Israel.  The American version of it is to see the U.S. as that city set on a hill the beacon of freedom God Chose to bring enlightenment and democracy to the world all the while enslaving and oppressing Africans.

So, let’s be clear this passage can’t be applied to White Christians, not at least as White Christians have done so.  Gentile believers can be joined to Israel, but only through the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, a Jew.  Only through this mediation of Christ can any Gentile become part of Israel and then hear these stories as our stories.
For Christians in the United states there are two distinct ways in which America carries with it the disgrace of “Egypt”. For black people it is the same as with the generation of the Israelites who entered Canaan in this passage, that they were formerly an enslaved people.  For White Christians it is that we were and are Egypt. (And Babylon and Rome) White Christian and the White Church is a gentile religion without Jesus Christ, the Jew of Nazareth the God the Son incarnate. White religion and Christianity. This is admittedly a depressing way of looking at this.  It starkly puts the point of division, a division that violently happened at the red sea, the division of Israel from Egypt, for the freedom of Israel and for God to begin to join with humanity through Israel. To the extent that White Europeans have enslaved and resisted the freedom of Africans and of Black people in the U.S. this division of Egypt for Israel reverberates for us in our day.

So, after White supremacy after African enslavement after the holocaust how can white Christians take up and read the Scriptures?  Can Egypt become Israel?  How then might Egypt read and properly identify with this story and the words of Joshua to Israel that the disgrace of Egypt has been rolled away.

 this depressing picture of division and the impossibility of a meeting between Egypt and Israel is to be looking at things not from the perspective of being in Christ but of seeing things from the point of view of flesh and the human point of view. But today we hear Paul calling us to no longer view anyone or anything form the point of view of flesh, the human point of view.

If we judge from the point of view of the flesh we may hear Martin Luther King Jr.’ preaching as addressing the U.S as Israel or the Black Church as Israel.  Such a reading though only offers division from Egypt, it doesn’t provide a means to enter the promised land and for the disgrace of Egypt to be rolled away, for Egypt remains other and negatively so, Egypt in this universalizing and abstracting appropriation of Israel leaves Egypt as only representing evil and slavery. It offers no hope of reconciliation Between White people and people of color. No hope of transforming relations of oppression into relations of liberation and love.

But what if we hear all of this King’s words “I’ve been to the Mountain top I’ve seen the promised land.” from the point of view of being in Christ?  From within Christ we may be able hear King’s vision from the space of being in Christ can see the disgrace of Egypt in its duality for American Christianity.  In that space we can begin to see it as something beyond the history of the United States, beyond the history of European colonialism and White supremacy.

Incredibly what Kings vision may illumine, if viewed from being in Christ, is that Egypt is among the nations that come to Israel along with all other gentile peoples who’ve suffered the disgrace of Egypt.

The trick here is that we all are so familiar with the view point of the flesh, the human point of view. That it  is difficult is for us to fully accept being in Christ and to thus stop viewing others from the point of view of the flesh.  How do we with Paul no longer view other form the perspective of the flesh?

The starting point is something we all if we have received the sacraments of the Church.  The starting point is Baptism and Eucharist; through these we do have access to this other point of view.  Through baptism and Eucharist, we have entered the promised land, that King glimpsed.  Yet, like our ancestors in Jesus of Nazareth the Christ, we have to be willing to enter in, to face our fears and walk through them. We have to accept our death in baptism, we must accept God’s substance in the manna come down from heaven.  But how do we embrace this unrealized reality that most of our ancestors who walked out of Egypt never fully embrace with only their children stepped into that Promised land.

How do we step in to this place, how do we walk into the Promised Land King glimpsed before his death?  Howe do we take up a position from within Christ, from within the promised land and no longer position ourselves in the flesh, no longer seeing anyone or anything from a human point of view?

Let us hear our brother Saint Paul. What does he say?  Are you in Christ?!  The answer is yes, through faith and baptism and consuming Christ in the Eucharist!  What does Paul tell us if we are in Christ?  Look, all things are new!  Do you hear that, can you grasp this, can you stand now, right now in this newness?  Chicago even as the old age continues to assert itself, Chicago is new, New Chicago (King speaks of needing to live in and seek this newness.)  But how?

This view from within Christ is twofold:
1)     it is to be in a new creation that is to be in the promised land
2)     It is to be reconciled to God and to be then with God in reconciling.
This is to no longer see anyone from the human flesh point of view.  It also means for us now being in two times and places at once.  This being in Christ is to be simultaneously in the desert that is in the age that is passing away and in the promised land, the new creation.

From this point of view and not the human point of view. Israel’s entrance into the promised land of Canaan, that strip of land between modern day Egypt and modern day Lebanon, was the beginning of the whole world and cosmos becoming the promised land.  All of creation is to be the place of our being with God.

From this point of view in Christ, what then of us who are Egypt and enemies of God and God’s people oppressors of other human beings?

Paul says again Are you in Christ!? No longer view anyone including yourself from the point of view of the flesh, but from the newness of the promised land.  Look at yourselves and all with the eyes of God incarnate, Jesus Christ.  In that space, in such a moment of newness we who are oppressors and we who suffer oppression no longer need to view each other according to our flesh, according to the color of our skin as Whiteness dictates.  We must view ourselves and all from the space of being reconciled. Be Reconciled to God!  If you are reconciled with God, you no longer view any person from a human point of view, from that space of reconciliation there can be no enmity, nor lessening of the other, no disparagement of self or other. Yet to remain here, to enter here, to see with the eyes of God the Father, this is the constant challenge, and the place of our constant failure, where we fall back into the desert and the human point of view.

And so Jesus told them this parable. Jesus tells this and several other parables when certain religious leaders were grumbling at whom Jesus Christ was welcoming.  Those being welcomed and those grumbling were Israel. Even in Israel there was division and looking at people accord to the flesh and the human point of view. 
we are perhaps too familiar with this story usually titled the Prodigal Son, but it could as easily be entitled the Loving/forgiving Father, the parable to the two brothers.  For our purposes today I’d want us to hear this parable under the title the parable of the new creation in Christ.

15:11b "There was a man who had two sons.
15:12 The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them.
15:13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
15:14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.
15:15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.
15:16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.
15:17 But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!
15:18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;
15:19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."'
15:20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.
15:21 Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
15:22 But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe--the best one--and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
15:23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;
15:24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.
15:25 "Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.
15:26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.
15:27 He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.'
15:28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.
15:29 But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.
15:30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!'
15:31 Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
15:32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"

It is possible to find ourselves in many places in this parable.  But if we’re to see this parable from the POV of the new creation and not stuck in the flesh we should place ourselves in the place of the father (which is the place of reconciliation and new creation.)  If we continue to interpret this parable either form the point of view of the younger son or the older brother we have yet to enter the feast that is prepared, we have yet to fully embrace our baptism and the Eucharist, we have yet allowed ourselves to be transformed by our consuming of Christ week after week.  The reason for this is that both sons remain representative so seeing others and ourselves according to the flesh, the human point of view.  The younger is caught in self condemnation, the older brother is caught in continual condemnation of others.  Yet to be in Christ is to be in the place of the father. The Place of the father is to be in the place of simultaneous the desert and promised land, that is to be actively waiting and looking for moments of reconciliation, of return and repentance, of the newness of life.  This space of the father in this parable is the space of knowing ourselves to be already reconciled to God and thus by god to all others including those who we have harmed or who have harmed us.  We are in the space of the father in the feast of the new creation in the world that still need God’s reconciling work accomplished in Christ Jesus.

Yet to come to the moment of the father actively seeking reconciliation, we must come through the moments of the two brothers. In the desert fleeing oppression, slavery and abuse, that Egypt will come to Israel is unimaginable. The oppressor, the powerful, the one who has inflicted harm and has robbed others of life and wealth and land and freedom, must accept the depth of their sin and turn and repent and not expect a joyful embrace.

Yet in Christ, in God all these moments are held together in a loving reconciling embrace that forgives without denial, offers repentance with responsibility, but without guilt or shame.

Here is the place of hope without fear that all the same sees clearly, to see trump and his supporters not from a human point of view but from the point of view of the father, who holds us all in Christ both those who are far off and those who are near.
Step into the promised land, have glimpse of this yet unrealized reality of being in Christ, where all is new. But first we must come with our fears our doubts our grumbling our judgments, our fears and anxieties and say I’m still in the desert, I’m afraid of what it might mean.  I need to hold on I need to protect myself, even in that moment in Christ, God embraces and says, come put on new cloths, come and feast, come and be reconciled to God. Or maybe you are standing outside, confounded by why God hasn’t struck down Pharaoh like he did that one time, why there are still people who lash out, who are bigoted who threaten your very existence, and you say how can I enter in, and God comes to you and says you are mine, you always have been mine, I’ve never abandoned you and never will, come see all is new, death and fear and tears don’t have the last word, they are all passing away. Come eat, dance, drink, behold in Christ, already now even when this age is crumbling around us, there’s the new creation.  There God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself like the father waiting to embrace a son who selfishly rejected all the father had given him.

Know that oppression and death don’t have the last word and the oppressor can return, Egypt will be among the nations turning to Israel, and you are already proof that this is so, for you are already in Christ, have already begun to enter, you are reconciled to God. This is the space of the promised land of being in Christ of no longer seeing rom a human point of view makes many things possible. Among the things it makes space for it makes space for the oppressor to repent and the oppressed to be freed from oppression and both to be reconciled to God and each other. This is the hope repentance and liberation. This is no longer seeing from the human point of view. Amen