(I preached this on August 31.)
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
August 30-31, 2014
Ordinary Time, Proper 17
[how do you know what you read on social media is the truth? Walter Cronkite is dead—there is no ONE OBJECTIVE ANSWER out there waiting for us. Everyone has their own side of the story, whether we like this or not.]
Moses just wants to be a little Switzerland right this moment. He’s having an identity crisis, of sorts, and of all people, he gets to have one.
Because, if you think back to what you recall either of a Charlton Heston movie or from watching the Prince of Egypt—Moses, when he was born, was saved from a genocidal pharaoh by his sister, Miriam, who stuck him in a basket and floated him down the river. The Pharoah’s daughter found him, and adopted him as her own, saving him a second time.
So Moses had grown up with a foot in both worlds—the world of the Pharoah’s palace, all prestige and privilege, and the world of the Israelite slaves who made that world possible in the first place. He’s had access to both worlds, to both places. So he grew up with two identities—Moses the prince and Moses the Israelite slave.
They were in conflict, to be sure, both sides of that particular story, but he was managing to balance them, apparently.
Everything was going fine it seemed, until one day when Moses was grown up and he ran into an Egyptian task master beating an Israelite slave.
All of a sudden, these two identities are in conflict, these two sides of the story are standing opposed to each other.
Moses intervenes and kills the guard.
He panics, and flees out to the wilderness, because Moses does not want to pick a side. Moses wanted to hang onto being a prince, but being a sort of cool prince who understood what was really going on, but still with all the power and the money, and the stuff.
Moses wanted the best of both worlds, but killing someone was probably going to mess that plan up.
Now, Wilderness is where the people of God go in the scriptures when something weird is going on. It’s the neutral space, it’s the space of retreat and where you head to rebuild, even though it’s not hospitable. But it’s also where God usually came and found you.
Which is what happens.
As we hear in the reading today, Moses is tending some sheep when he sees the burning bush, and he hears God call his name. And God sends him back to Egypt—not as a prince in a palace this time, but as something entirely different. As the leader who will save the Israelites from oppression.
In other words, God wants him to pick a side. And God wants him to give up some things, like power and privilege and some things that go along with it.
Hiding out in the wilderness of neutrality doesn’t cut it—you have to figure out where you stand. Where God is calling you to go in the stories of today.
because yes, there are always many sides to each story. And yes, God loves us all, everyone. God loves everybody. And that has always been true. God loved the Egyptians and the Israelites. God loved Pharaoh and Moses and Miriam and Aaron and their mother.
And it is God’s love that calls on them. It is that very love that makes God receptive when the beloved Egyptians start enslaving the beloved Israelites. It’s that very love that causes God to say to Moses— “I have heard the cry of my people Israel, and I have come down here to set them free.”
God’s love means God comes down, means God picks sides. God loves the Israelites, so God calls Moses to free them from slavery. God loves the Egyptians, so God calls Moses to convince them that holding people in bondage is not the way to go. God’s love for humanity means God gets involved in the story. God doesn’t stay neutral—that’s not how love works. Love wants the fullness of human life. Love wants the fullness of justice and righteousness and peace for everyone involved—and that’s not a thing that’s neutral—and so that meant the Israelites couldn’t be slaves anymore. Because God’s love forces God to come down on the side of the oppressed, the powerless and the helpless.
Desmond Tutu said once If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse is not going to appreciate your neutrality.
Our pretended neutrality doesn’t serve the love of God. It doesn’t serve God’s call to us. And God doesn’t let us stay there.
God called Moses out of his desert of neutrality, out of having the best of both worlds. Out of his Egyptian palace and into his role as a leader for an oppressed people.
And God calls us the same way. God calls us to take sides, to take sides thoughtfully, to take sides in love. To side with the poor, the powerless and the oppressed when we see injustice in this world.
So what we have to ask ourselves is where is God calling us now? Here in Kansas City, here in Missouri, where is God calling us to go? What desert is God calling us to leave behind?
For starters, I can tell you that although the tanks are gone from the streets in Ferguson, the basic situation hasn’t changed. The officer who shot Michael Brown still hasn’t been charged, the original prosecutor remains in charge of the case, the police still have a whole mess of riot gear and tanks and tear gas at their disposal, and not a whole lot has changed.
Except, in the three weeks since he died, two more young black men who were also unarmed have been killed by police officers around the country.
So what is it that God is calling you to do in this situation?
Do you need to sign a petition, do you need to have a hard conversation with your friends, with your coworkers, do you need to go to a march, do you need to email the governor? Do you need to do some research into the history and context of race relations in St. Louis and law enforcement? Do you need to listen to people with first hand experience of dealing with the police while being Black in America?
What are you being called to do here in this moment?
Because we are being called to something. Whenever we as people of faith find injustice, we are called to do something. We are not called to complacency, we are not called to run to the wilderness, we are called to do something.
We just have to listen for God’s voice, remember God’s love, and know that God is with us.