The Wednesday Bible study is reading Exodus, and yesterday morning we got to the part of the story where the Israelites are about to cross the Red Sea. They have been enslaved for 400 years at this point, and lately two charismatic leaders, Moses and Aaron, have given voice to their common pain and galvanized a movement. “Let my people go,” Moses says to Pharaoh, “we don’t belong in this narrow place anymore. We’re not slaves to you, we are children of God.”
The boundary the people must cross is both literal and metaphoric. The water separates Egypt from the wilderness, where Pharaoh does not rule, but perhaps more importantly, walking through it is their access to emotional and spiritual freedom. The Sea is liminal space, “a boundary between two domains that must be traversed if one is to enter into a new mode of living.” (Covenant and Conversation, Jonathan Sacks) We talked about the rich symbolism of water, how it refreshes and cleanses and accompanies birth, but also noted that the Israelites’ crossing is full of danger. The observant reader sees in their watery passage a rehearsal of Genesis’ creation story. Talk to anyone who has turned from some death-dealing behavior toward wholeness, and you see what the scripture is giving voice to: one has to go through chaos to reach the order of any longed for promised land.
Such crossings are tough sledding. Three days into their new life, the Israelites complain to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” It’s an honest question; most of us won’t choose this kind of difficult growth, unless where we are has become untenable. Who hasn’t opted for familiar hells when faced with a strange, new heaven? But conviction and circumstances compel them to start moving: they deserve to be agents of their own destiny, and besides, 600 Egyptian chariots are closing in on them fast! Moreover, the Red Sea crossing is an enactment of covenant, which suggests that the Israelites not only enter a new land on the other side, they also exit the water as a new people.
The central verb of covenant is “to cut,” and this kind of promise was usually ritualized by dividing an animal into pieces, with the parties to the covenant then sitting or standing between the sides of the slaughtered beast. In a memorable scene from Genesis, Abram cuts an assortment of birds and ruminants into pieces and then falls into a deep sleep, in which he hears the Lord. “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated 400 years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves… and in four generations your descendants will come back (home)… When the sun had set and the darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.” In a similar action at the Red Sea, the Israelites pass between two walls of water, crossing from being slaves of Pharaoh to being servants of God.
As individuals and a nation, we are being invited to cross fairly troubled waters right now, and to navigate by a rhetoric of fear or by love. How we walk and the steps we take will make all the difference; they shape not only our destination, but who we are as a people when we get there.
Excerpted from “Guerrillas of Grace” by Ted Loder
‘There Are Things I Do Care About’
There are things I care about
And some people I feel close to-
Families, friends, children
Most of all children.
I do care what happens to them
So, I do care about love,
And about being loved
And about loving (or trying to);
And I wonder about it,
How to do it and what makes me want to do it.
With those close to me,
I care about laughing,
And talking honestly
And fighting openly and fairly
And admitting I want to be forgiven
And need to be.
I care about my neighbors,
At least some of them,
And about all the things that would make it better
And perhaps easier
For us to live together;
And the hard decisions and sacrifices
It would take for that to happen.
Which means I do care about justice,
Though mostly from a distance,
Because I care about what it might require of me
And then I get testy or silent
But am haunted by it
Because something in me
Won’t let me stop caring about it,
Even though I often wish I could.
So I care about my enemies,
And am tired of being angry
And suspicious so much,
Which is such a waste;
And I care about the least-
And the sick
And the terrorized
And the exploited of the earth-
Because I care about peace
And long for it inside and out,
And I am weary of being afraid
For myself and the children.
I care about this tiny fragile blue planet,
This home, this mother earth and all her offspring,
All the creatures who share the mystery of life
And I really care about beauty,
About the songs in me,
The poems, the stories;
I care deeply about
The wondrous, puzzling,
That I am;
I care this joy I feel
Flickering sometimes, flaring sometimes.
When I touch hands or eyes
Or minds or souls
And ache, then, for more.
I care about living –
Living more fully,
And about my urgent longing for that;
I care about what makes me restless,
Makes me reach
And grope for words,
For other people,
Holy One, you,
I do care about you,
Or I wouldn’t’ be stumbling along like this,
Trying to pray,
Trying to put myself in your way;
I care about you,
And such is my faith,
However faltering it is;
And I trust that, past words
You care about all these things
That I care about,
Care about them more,
Than I care about them;
And that you care for me,
Even when I am careless
Of the things I care about.
Master teachers have a way of saying something that leaves you thinking about what they said days afterwards.
Dan Christian is such a teacher, and he offered up a number of intriguing mind-soul-heart morsels for 150 of us to chew on, in the south transept of our sanctuary last Sunday, as sunlight streamed in through stained glass.
Dan was talking about the experience of Hell, as imagined by Dante. And what he said, that still has me chewing, is something along the lines of this …
“The one thing that everyone in Dante’s Hell shares in common with one another is a preposition: against.”
Dan wondered aloud in our sanctuary-turned-classroom what he has wondered aloud with his high school students for years: perhaps a more life-giving, heavenly preposition to embody and strive for, as we live our lives on earth, is with.
“But we need something even more than with,” one of his students recently challenged. “We need something more like with-towards-in.”
What a fascinating new preposition! So … dynamic. So … relational. So … inclusive. So … one-ing.
In this new preposition, can you hear these ancient prophetic words?
Hear my people, the Lord our God, the Lord is One … and … Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did to me.
What about the words of the modern-day prophet, whose life and memory we honor this weekend?
In a real sense all life is interrelated. All [people] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be …This is the interrelated structure of reality.
And this old Christian hymn:
We are One in the Spirit
We are One in the Lord
We are One in the Spirit
We are One in the Lord
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
Let us pray … let us act … let us move … and be moved …