Sunday, October 4, 2020

Phil Kniss: Sitting at the table of a God on the move

“God delivers the captives”
Exodus 12:1-13, 13:1-8

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The narrative continues,
and God keeps running interference on God’s people,
as they veer off track this way or that . . . or
they get stuck in a terrible situation,
and need to be rescued.

This time, it’s the second one.
They’re stuck.
More than stuck, they’re enslaved.
Oppressed. Trapped. Powerless.
And this is what gets God fired up the most:
humans oppressing other humans.

It’s the worst way to fail our divine calling—
when human beings, loved by God,
use and abuse other human beings, equally loved by God.
It’s an insult to God.
It’s saying to God’s face
that God’s love is meaningless—
God’s love for those persons we oppress,
and God’s love for us.

This story of the Exodus from slavery
is the sacred text for understanding God as liberator.
This story has been a touchstone
for oppressed peoples across the ages—
for enslaved persons from Africa,
for Jews during the Holocaust,
for campesinos in Latin America.
Even Muslims revere this story.
Prophet Moses is named more than any other individual in the Quran.
His role in the Exodus is an inspiration
wherever Muslims are oppressed today.

So what happens in this story?
If you recall, from my sermon last Sunday,
Joseph, the ancestor of these enslaved Hebrews,
played into the hands of Pharaoh and the Egyptian Empire,
and helped them set up a system of oppression,
during the great famine.
Now Joseph’s actions have come back to bite his own people,
generations later.

Sure, Pharaoh would have been oppressive without Joseph’s help.
Nevertheless, by this time Pharaoh’s treatment of God’s people
is beyond the pale,
so God steps in to punish the oppressors,
and liberate the oppressed.

10 fantastic stories we call the great plagues
get the Hebrews to the place where we find them today,
in Exodus 12 and 13.

They are about to be pushed out of Egypt.
Egyptians see the Hebrews as the cause of their suffering,
and want them gone . . . as far away as possible.

So this story is about their last night in Egypt,
and last meal together as a community,
and the first Passover Feast.
God the avenger went through the land with the final plague of death,
but passed over, or spared,
those who splashed the blood of a pure lamb on their door jambs.

Strange ritual to us.
But made perfect sense to a culture that did animal sacrifice.

In the Passover, God is on the move.
Everything about the Passover story
points to a God that will not sit still,
and doesn’t want God’s people to, either.

They baked unleavened bread,
for the very practical reason they were in a hurry.
They couldn’t sit for hours and wait for dough to rise.
They had to mix, bake, eat, and run.
God was on the move.
God was doing something that night they would remember forever.
God was liberating the people of Israel
from the bonds of slavery.

Everyone—Hebrews and Egyptians alike—
were in a hopelessly stuck and static narrative,
where everyone’s survival depended on status quo;
depended on the oppressors staying in power,
and on the oppressed staying in bondage.

They had forgotten (or had never known)
the God that called Abraham and Sarah to become nomads,
to give up being rooted and stable,
and to go to a place God would show them.

The Exodus was kind of like Abraham and Sarah, revisited,
but a larger scale.
God was moving,
and the Hebrews were encouraged to join the movement,
go into the wilderness, only God knew where,
and discover how to be utterly dependent.

So in Exodus 12, the Israelites eat on the run.
They have fast-food for dinner.
Because God is moving quickly,
and they have to hurry to keep up.

Did you hear Moses’ detailed instructions?
Not only was the bread unleavened, for sake of speed.
Even the meat preparation had to be efficient,
no leftovers to hassle with.
If one household was too small to eat a whole lamb,
they had to share with a neighbor,
so there was enough, but not too much.
And eat the lamb and bread, Moses said,
“with your cloak tucked into your belt,
your sandals on your feet
and your staff in your hand.
Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.”

It’s not hard for us to picture that.
Think of the way enslaved people in this country
might have eaten their food on the Underground Railroad.
Food in one hand, knapsack in another,
eyes up looking for bounty hunters,
shoes on their feet,
almost crouched, ready to run.

So what can we take from this, today?—
this notion of fast food and God on the move?
Does it relate to the Lord’s Supper?
Our ritual is different of course.
We might call communion a grandchild of the Passover,
since Jesus and his disciples were eating the Passover meal,
at their Last Supper.

One thing is similar.
At the communion table we also “eat on the run.”
The God who invites us to sit at this table,
is a God on the move,
as God always is.
God has a mission—
to restore shalom in a broken and sinful world.
The mission is urgent.

Not saying we should rush through the ritual.
But, the Lord’s table is not a place to take up residence.
It’s not a place to stay and overeat.
Here we eat lightly, and move on.
The Lord’s Table is a place to be refreshed and renewed
so we can leave the table immediately after the meal,
and go about our work
of sharing God’s liberation and salvation.
We “eat on the run” so to speak.

The focus of this meal is not inward, it’s outward.
The movement is “that way,” not “this way.”
We are a missional church.
And this is a missional meal.
We eat not to stuff ourselves, but to celebrate liberation in Christ.

So I invite you,
as you prepare to partake of this meal wherever you are,
to consider what it means to sit at this table with a God on the move.
Especially now.
With so much of the world and our lives in turmoil,
we crave stability and predictability.

Where is it in your own life,
or in the life of our church,
where you might be clamoring right now
to manage, control, to fix something into place . . .
but God might be saying, “Trust me.”
Stay with me.
I know the way we are going.

God is on the move,
and we are joined to God in mission.
So . . . come to eat and drink and be renewed.
But don’t come to stay.
Come to go.
Receive, then give.

And remember, we are not eating this meal alone.
Today is World Communion Sunday.
We join with Christ’s body everywhere
to celebrate God’s saving, liberating work in Jesus.
We are all on the move. All together.
Godspeed. God be with us.

To help connect us to Christ’s body
that enfolds many cultures and tongues,
we will again read a bi-lingual Eucharistic Prayer,
as we have in previous World Communion Sundays.
This traditional prayer before communion
is in both English and Spanish,
and switches back and forth, but not always in translation.

And to help connect us to our own scattered body here at Park View,
we will be reading along with ourselves—
a recording of us last October,
last World Communion Sunday,
when this sanctuary was full of people.
So read along if you wish,
or if you just want to listen to the sound of our gathered voices,
that’s okay, too.

After this prayer Pastor Paula Stoltzfus will give you instructions
on how to partake of the communion at home.

Follow along now on the screen, or your printed order of worship.
You will hear me read the English light print,
and Peyton Erb read the Spanish light print,
and all of us read together the bold yellow print,
in both languages. Let us pray together.

—Phil Kniss, October 4, 2020

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