“On The Fly”
A sermon by Andrew Philip Long
The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK
September 10, 2017
Exodus 12:1-14 & Matthew 18:15-20
The Pharaoh who reigned over Egypt in the time of our Israelite ancestors did not know Jospeh. That is how the book of Exodus begins. And because the Pharaoh did not know Jospeh and all the wonderful things he had done, Pharaoh had a very low view of the Israelites. When it came time to build Egypt’s grand monuments, the Pharaoh zeroed in on the Israelites as the perfect workforce. Free, abundant, easy to control, the Israelites were perfect for Pharaoh’s architectural dreams. Enslaving the Israelites had another purpose, too: population control. Pharaoh was concerned that the Israelites might grow to outnumber the Egyptians and try to overthrow the government. By shackling them in brickyards and quarries, as stonemasons and construction workers and manual laborers, the Pharaoh could keep the Israelites in their place. Pharaohs broke the backs of the Israelites for over 400 years.
The liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt began at a burning bush when God called a man named Moses was called to set the Israelites free. At the burning bush God called Moses to go down to Egypt and demand Pharaoh let his people go. When Moses asked “How?,” God revealed to him the divine name, a name so powerful that when Moses used it, Pharaoh would have no choice but to let the people go. Or, at least that is how it was supposed to go. Pharaoh was a stubborn man. He was not willing to let his free workforce go; he was not willing to listen to a nomadic shepherd like Moses who had a speech impediment. Pharaoh was a stubborn man, and he needed to be convinced. First, God tried to convince Pharaoh by turning all the water in Egypt into blood. When that didn’t work, God tried to convince Pharaoh by sending swarms of frogs, then lice, then all kinds of predatory bugs and small creatures. When this did not convince Pharaoh, God sent a plague that decimated the livestock population in Egypt. Next, God tried to convince Pharaoh by plaguing the Egyptians with boils, then with thunderstorms of hail, then with locusts, and finally with total darkness. Each plague was worse than the one before it, but Pharaoh would not let God’s people go.
God had one final plague: at midnight God sent an angel of death to pass over the land of Egypt to kill the firstborn son in each house and the firstborn of any livestock in the barns. The angel spared no one, visiting the high house of Pharaoh and the lowly house of his servants and everything in between. Pharaoh, utterly in despair, summoned Moses into his house and said, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord. Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone!”
Right in the middle of these dramatic events, the narrator of the book of Exodus stops and gives God’s instructions for the observance of the first Passover. On the appointed night, each family is to slaughter a lamb, a year-old male without blemish. If a family is too small for a whole lamb, they are to share with their closest neighbor. When they have slaughtered the lamb, they are to take some of the blood and paint it onto the doorposts of the house where they are living. Then, dressed and ready to go, each family is to eat the lamb roasted with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. On that night, while the Israelites are eating their meal, the angel of death will pass over the land of Egypt. Wherever the angel sees blood on the door posts, they will pass over; wherever the angel does not see blood on the door posts, there they will enter and take the life of the first-born male child inside. All the Israelites who followed these instructions were spared when God struck the land of Egypt. Finally, God instructed the Israelites to celebrate Passover each year, and to teach their children the importance of the meal.
The Passover meal is the central ritual for our Jewish brothers and sisters. It is a remembrance of God’s power and love, a power and a love that exchanged the lives of the Egyptians for their own. Each year when the Jews sit to celebrate the Passover, they remember that they were once slaves in a foreign land under the hand of an oppressive dictator. Each year at Passover they remember that God heard their cries and acted decisively to set them free. Each year at Passover they remember that God passed over and spared their lives. Each year at Passover they remember that they are a people on the fly, only in Egypt for a short period of time before God brings them to a better land, flowing with milk and honey. To this day, God’s people eat the Passover meal in haste, ready at any moment to get up and go. Slavery in Egypt, a quick meal, the Promised land of milk and honey: that is the course of God’s people.
My friends, Egypt is not just a geographical location and its terror was not just visited on our Israelite ancestors. Take a look around wherever you are and you will. You will see people in an Egypt of utter hopelessness because of their elected leaders, because of political gridlock, because of a system that has passed them by. You will see people in an Egypt of illness, struck down by a disease that has no cure, by a body that has failed them, or by a mind that has been lost way too soon. You will see people locked in an Egypt of violence, physical violence at the hands of loved ones, mental and emotional violence perpetrated by trusted friends and companions. You will see people in an Egypt that keeps them poor, keeps them uneducated, keep them unemployed, because of their color, their language, the person they love, or their way of life. Look around and you will see people in an Egypt of death, enslaved in a cycle of addiction, bound in the chains of inescapable debt, locked away in prisons of depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, or any other mental illness. Take a look around wherever you are and you will see people in Egypt. Maybe you don’t have to look around; maybe you just need to look in the mirror.
This means that the good news of God from the book of Exodus is ours to claims today. You and me, just like our Israelite ancestors, know what it is like to be held captive in Israel. But we, just the Israelites, are also a people on the fly. We are a people on the fly and that means that the Egypts of every life are not our home. Not even close. We are a people on a constant journey to a better, a more broad, a more beautiful land, flowing with milk and honey—a land that God prepared for us even before we drew our first breath. It is a land where there are no divisions of race, culture, political party, gender, or ethnicity because all are one in Christ Jesus. It is a land where weapons are turned into gardening tools and war is practiced no more. It is a land where physical and emotional violence are brought to an end by God’s righteous justice. It is a land where God’s mercy is shown to those who fear him, where God scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, where God lifts up the lowly and brings down the powerful from their thrones. In this land the river of life flows from the throne of God, bright as crystal, and the tree of life if there, and its leaves are for the healing of the nations. In this land there will be no more night, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes; death will be no more, and mourning and crying and pain will be no more. We will gather in this land, and the Lord Jesus will be there, and there will no end to our joy.
And so as we journey towards this land, as we live on the fly between Egypt and the promised land God has prepared for us, we have a meal, this meal. This is no ordinary meal. At this table we are nourished for the journey ahead as we fly out of Egypt towards the promised land of God. At this table we feast on the broken body and spilled blood of our Lord who calls us to live as sacrificially as he did. At this table we join with our brothers and sisters in this place and in every other place where the spirit of God dwells. At this table we taste and see and feel that there is always enough in God’s kingdom, that no one—no one—ever goes away hungry. At this table we remember that Christ broke bread with all kinds of unsavory figures—prostitutes, sinners, corrupt government officials—and he asks us to do the same. At this table we are reminded that we have one identity and one identity alone, children of God, and no thing, no person, no system can define us in any other way. At this table there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, because all of us are one in Christ Jesus. At this table we taste our freedom in God, a freedom that nothing can take away.
You are welcome at this table; every age, every class, every gender, every race, every sinner is welcome at this table. It will nourish each on of us for the journey ahead. We are a people on the fly, so gird up your loins, put your sandals on your feet, put a staff in your hand, and come. Come, taste and see that the Lord is good. Come, don’t eat to quickly, but don’t linger long, either. For at this very moment God is calling us to get up and go, to get up and go into the future God has prepared for us all: with hope, with love, with peace, with one another. Amen.