This is a transcript from the October 4, 2020 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
Hey, I want you to imagine that you're going to go on a trip. What would you pack? Well, it might depend on where you're going, but what if you didn't know where you're going? Then you'd want to pack a lot. What if you had to pack for a trip, and you only had one hour? Now you get down to the essentials, what are the essential things you would want with you, no matter where you were? There's lists on the internet, you might want to look at that, you might want to get one of those checklists.
Let me take this a little bit further. Instead of a trip, what if now you're going to move, and you're not sure where you're going, or what you're going to need? Your instinct, my instinct would be to let's pack everything and sometimes not very wisely. What if, again, you're going to move, and you have to pack immediately and you can only take the essentials and you have to go tonight?
I give us that just to give us a sense of the urgency and a little bit of the passage that's in front of us today, because we have a passage that is now in the book of Exodus. We have been walking through the great story of God in Genesis and Exodus, in the stories of origin, in Abraham and Sarah, and last week, Joseph. Now, all these folks are in Egypt and they've been there for a while, and now they are slaves and God is saying, "It's time to move and it's time to move now." What's essential, what's essential in that trip?
In our passage, it would say this, it says,
What was the thing that they had to take with them? This passage says they took their story. Before they took and were given a law, before they were given religious practices, all that's to come, before they were even to take the land and have a land, they were given a story, because the most essential thing they would take with them was their story with God.
Today, I want to talk about the power of story, I want to talk about what is it like to go into a land that seems foreign and you don't know what's there? Even if you were to look on Trip Adviser, you look at all those places, the Hittites, the Canaanites, the Jebusites, and on and on and you find out, maybe it's not as milk and honey as it might sound, or that's an awfully vague kind of description, isn't it? Maybe they're not all that friendly. Maybe the fact that there's so many people is a clue that this may not be such an easy transition. How do you prepare for that?
Moses says, "The Lord's going to bring you to this land and this is what you're going to do. You must eat unleavened bread from now on for seven days." You're going to enact, you're going to remember your story. Wherever you go, you're going to eat strange food. You're going to do this for a week at a time, and then you're going to come to a festival. I want to talk about the power of a story. The power of a story is the story that tells you who you are, it tells us where we're from and it points to where we're going. That's certainly true in our passage.
The essentials of this story, tell the children of Israel that one day they are the children of Israel, because it would have been easy to forget who they were. They had come as the children of Israel, but for hundreds of years now, we are told, that they had been forgotten. The story that they had brought with them had faded. Now they were slaves, their dignity and their worth was no longer that they were chosen, now their dignity and worth was transactional, it was conditional, "How many bricks can you make?"
The fact that they would claim for themselves a different kind of status, a different kind of worth, a different kind of dignity was laughable. At least that's what the Pharaoh saw because the real valuable people were the powerful people. They were the people who were like Pharaoh, and the closer you were to that power, the more worthy you were.
Except, Moses comes and reminds them, awakens them to who they really are because that's the power of a story. It awakened them to some ancient spiritual DNA, some story that inside said, "Yes, eventually it would at least." Now they knew they weren't just slaves, they weren't just measured by how many bricks they could produce, they weren't just measured in, given their worthiness by their proximity to power, it was awakening what it meant to be part of the creation of God in the first place.
"You should do this," Moses says, "You should do this every year, you should do this to remind yourself." We're talking about the story of Passover. There's lots of details here about what to eat and when to do it. There's place for all the details and all the how but today, what I want to focus in on is the why of this story. Why are they doing this? I believe because it points to the power of story in their lives and for us.
It's one thing if this is just a story about what took place thousands of years ago, it's another thing if we find our story in the great story of God, and it begins to inform who we are and more than that, whose we are. This is a story that says, You belong to God, you have been chosen, you are beloved, and you belong to something larger than yourself. More than that, you belong to the God who is greater than the powers that are around you, all the pretenders to power and all the prestige and all the wealth and all the might, you have a God who is even greater than death. That's who you are. From now on, you go from this place, and not only from there, you begin to align yourself, and you are assured that you belong to this God.
Stories have the power to remind us where we came from. They tell us, "Yes, you used to be slaves, you were forgotten but now that's part of a larger story." When we talk about God, it's amazing to me how many times that the story is about God, and we understand God and we understand some stories only in the rearview mirror. They don't make sense to us in the moment, there's this chaos, there's this confusion, and we don't know where we're going but when we begin to look back over our shoulder where we have been, ah, now we begin to see that there was a story there all along. We belong to something bigger, we look back, and we are able to say, "Oh, at the time, I thought, but now I can see." That's the power of a story.
Moses knew that they would need that, they would be going off into this wilderness, they would be going into this place where nothing made sense, they would be tempted, as they were, to, "Let's just go back. This is too scary." They would need to be reminded, they would need to look back over their shoulder and go, "Oh, that's right. We have a story. We got here. There's something at work in our life." You and I have the same trouble sometimes.
When I ask people, it's a powerful question, if you're part of a life group, or maybe just around your table with good friends and you ask this question, "When did you sense the closeness of God? When was God particularly palpably close, not in theory but in reality, when did you know it?" I am amazed how many times that the answer comes back, "It was a time that I felt forgotten. It was a time I was in great suffering. It was a time of great transition. At the time I thought, but now I can see." That's a God that makes sense in a rearview mirror.
That's the power of a story because there are lots of different places that will tell you, "You're not Beloved, you're cursed. You're just not much, you're not enough." The headlines and the stories and the people around you will tell you, "You are only valuable by what you have produced, and what you have accumulated, what you have amassed, what you have accomplished." There are lots of things that will try to tell you who you are and what you are worth, let alone where you should even try to go, but that's the power of a story.
That's the power of Passover. That's the power of all our stories. That's the power of ritual when we enact those stories and live them out. We are reminded as Brené Brown says, "Our worthiness doesn't have a prerequisite." My goodness, did that strike a nerve. Is that because it's something new? No, it's because it is in our ancient spiritual DNA and she awakened people to it, and because of that, now they're able to move ahead.
You have a story. You have something that you can give, not only to yourself, but to your children. Our passage at the bottom says, "You should explain to your children on that day it's because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt." If not for ourselves, at least for our children, we should be telling the story about who we are. What we have been given. Whose we are. We should be reminding our children, and their children, and the children who are to come after them, that they have a legacy of a story. That they are a part and they are on a path of the beloved. No matter what signals they get, and it doesn't matter how many likes they have or what they have accomplished, that there is nothing, there is nothing that they can do to make God love them less. Even as there's nothing that they can do to make God love them more.
That's our story. That's what we get to live into, and when we do, that story becomes transformative. If you want to change your life, change your story, because it's not a matter of whether or not we will have one, it's which story will we live out, and this passage, and the story of Passover, and the great story of God, is an invitation to live out a deep and powerful and ancient story that needs to be awakened in us.
It was on another Passover thousand years later, that Jesus was with his disciples and they were enacting the same ritual. They were telling the same story, but Jesus used it to shift and said, "You are on a different kind of a journey, and you have no idea where it's going and you're going to get scared, but you should know this, you should know that you belong to me. You should know who you are. You should know whose you are. You should know that I will never leave you, and that as you go from here, you can be assured that God is with you. You belong to something larger."
Which brings us to the table in front of us today. Here we are on World Communion Sunday. Here we are in another time of transition. Here we are wondering, "What is this journey in front of us? How should we pack for the future? What should we bring? What's essential?" It's easy to think that what's essential are the things that we have accumulated. It's easy to think that maybe our security is in our wealth, or our size, or our popularity, our strength has to do with our position in society. There's nothing wrong with any of those, unless they bog us down, unless they get in the way, unless they hold us back from the journey that we have been given. Unless they become a substitute for what's really essential, our story.
How is it that the people who have been given the story sometimes, sometimes become the enemy of it? Where we make people's worth and dignity about who they are close to with power and what they have produced. There's something transformative, there's something empowering when we give people their own story, and realize that what's been going on is a story that is no longer worthy of them.
In the last hundred years, this last century has been a transformational century about the stories of people. Somewhere around the middle of the last century, there was the story that was beginning to shift for people who had lived in nations that had been colonized by some of the powers, some of the 'first world powers' and now they are in the 'third world', which tells you a little something about worth and dignity. Somehow they began to believe the story and enacted, and believe and act out, that their worth and their dignity had something more to do with than just who they were as vassals to their conquerors hundreds of years ago. That their value as a land, had more to do with than just as a gas station for the world, or a food producer, or just raw materials for those first world people, and it began to change.
It's in the last hundred years that women, more and more began to question the roles that they had been given. That the story that they had been given wasn't big enough. That the traditional roles, if that was the only thing they could do and the only place that they could find value, and the fact that they wanted more, didn't mean that they were defective. What began to awaken in people, way too slow, was it's the story that was defective. They needed something larger.
Now, think of the same when it comes to people of color. Think of the same when it comes to the LGBTQ community. Think of the same of what's happening right now, even with people who are disabled. Who are beginning to realize that they aren't the problem. It's the story that's the problem.
We come to this table today, opening it up as the World Communion Sunday, to say that this is bigger than who we are. This is bigger than we can imagine, and we don't know where we are going, but oh my goodness, we know whose we are. We're going to entrust ourselves because we are on a path, we are on the path of the beloved. As Nouwen says, "Being the beloved is the origin and the fulfillment of the life of the Spirit. From the moment we claim the truth of being the beloved, we are faced with the call to become who we are. Becoming the beloved is the great spiritual journey we have to make."