Posts Tagged ‘Alternative Community’

Salt and Light

August 26th, 2011 No comments

“Salt and Light” (Matthew 5:13-20)
By Pastor Peter Goerzen
June 26, 2011, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

Audio: “Salt and Light”

Light is often connected with the presence of God:

  • God is the source of light (Gen. 1:3)
  • God’s presence is likened to a bright shining light (Isa. 60:1-3)
  • Isaiah refers to the Light of the LORD (2:5)
  • Israel is to be the light of the nations (Isa. 49:6)
  • God’s word is light (Ps. 119:105)
  • Doing deeds of obedience means walking in the light (Ps. 112:4; 1 Jn. 1:7)

No transcript is available. Enjoy the audio!

At the Shore of the Sea

September 15th, 2010 No comments

“At the Shore of the Sea” (Exodus 14-15)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
August 29, 2010, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

Slaves in Egypt
Today we stand with the people of Israel at the shore of the sea, Pharaoh’s army bearing down on us from the one side; an impassable body of water to the other, and we have a decision to make.

The story of Genesis leaves off in the land of Egypt with the reconciliation and reunion of the once-estranged family of Jacob, grandson of Abraham, whom God had called with promise and purpose. The story in Exodus quickly catches us up to the present, some four centuries later.

The dark cloud of slavery has descended over the people of Israel in the land of Egypt. The people of Israel broke their backs in the brickyards of Egypt; the whip of Egypt tore at their shoulders as they toiled in the fields. The Israelites groaned under the weight of their bondage, and their cry went up to God, and God remembered the covenants of promise and purpose with Abraham and Sarah and their descendants. As we know, when God remembers the promise, people’s lives change.

And that was when the Lord appeared to Moses. Now, as storytellers ancient and modern will say, this is a great story to tell. Moses, the reluctant hero, leads the people of Israel, amid signs and wonders, through the waters and into the liberated future of God. This is a story of flaming bushes, hardened hearts, jaded hope, and amazing deeds. It is the Old Testament story of salvation; it is, indeed, a great story to tell.

Moses, the fallen prince of Egypt, turned to see a bush blazing with the presence of Almighty God. As Moses approached with bared feet and frightened soul, God, the keeper of the promise, revealed himself. As Moses found out, there’s always a purpose to God’s revelation, and Moses reluctantly and tentatively went on his way, back to the land of Egypt, the bearer of God’s liberating purposes in a land of slavery.

An Empire Called Egypt
Now Egypt, historians and archaeologists will tell you, was a grand civilization – a land of progress and knowledge, a land of refined culture and sophisticated religion, a land of great wealth, of marvelous monuments stretching toward the heavens, testament to human ingenuity weathering the storms of time. Egypt was the world’s superpower, it’s leaders the grandest, its economy the envy of the nations, its military unrivaled and equipped with the latest technology devised for the taking of human life and the assertion of unsurpassed domination. Egypt: the land of static triumphalism; the land of comfort, security, stability, and predictability. Egypt: the empire of the status quo.

Of course, as a Hebrew, Moses knew that Egypt, like all triumphalist superpowers and empires, was built on the backs of the oppressed, secured by the chains of exploitation, and legitimated by numbness, fear, denial, and the divine right. So, off went Moses to say to the word’s great empire, “Let my people go.” Off went Moses, to dismantle the foundation of oppression and expose the mythology of static triumphalism. As expected, Pharaoh was not impressed with Moses’ suggestion, and he increased the suffering of the people of Israel. Liberation would not come without risk and cost.1

The interesting thing is, the Israelites themselves would not listen to Moses, “because of their broken spirit and cruel slavery.”2 They were crying out to Pharaoh instead of to God.3 The oppressed people, those whom God had chosen to deliver out of the house of slavery, would not, could not, listen to the good news of God’s messenger because their spirit was broken.

The consciousness and vision of the empire has finally won when the oppressed people themselves become incapable of imagining a hopeful future, when the oppressed people themselves have become so numb that they cannot even grieve their own pain and brokenness any longer.

Isn’t it interesting how, in the empire, the vulnerable and the fearful are convinced to pretend that everything is okay. Isn’t it interesting how the consciousness of the empire forbids us even to acknowledge and grieve our own pain, but instead to put on the pretense that everything is okay – in our marriages, in our families – even God’s own people had stopped acknowledging their own brokenness among themselves. They had stopped imagining that a hopeful future was yet possible.

Politics is risky, complicated, and messy business, as Moses discovered when Pharaoh responded by increasing the suffering of his people. The people of Israel, broken in spirit, believed it would be best not to go there, not to get involved in politics. What they hadn’t realized, just as the Empire hoped, was that non-involvement itself was a political act of endorsing the triumphalism of the status-quo.4

Dismantling the Royal Consciousness
But God, who is faithful to the promise, did have a dream of a future of justice and compassion, and God did not accept the status-quo. God began acting to bring Egypt’s oppression of the Israelites to the surface, to empower the people of Israel to grieve and to dream once again.

God set about dismantling the mythology and religion of Egypt – the religion that served the elite by claiming that everything was as good as it gets; the religion where the gods exist to serve human kings; the religion of the triumphal status quo. The dismantling of the consciousness of the empire is the story of the plagues.

The first plague, turning the Nile to blood, was matched by the Empire. Pharaoh’s magicians went to the laboratory and reproduced the plague. Likewise, the second plague, the swarm of frogs, the Egyptian magicians were able to reproduce. Nothing was changed. Egypt’s power remained unchallenged. But then came the third plague:

“Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and gnats came on humans and animals alike; all the dust of the earth turned into gnats throughout the whole land of Egypt. The magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, but they could not.”5

The fraud of the empire was exposed, because it could not! “False claims to authority and power” simply cannot “keep their promises. . . in the face of the free God.”6 The bankruptcy of oppression is revealed, because Egypt cannot. The unsteady foundation of exploitation and violence of the superpower cannot because its source of power is not powerful enough. The empire has been revealed; the people no longer cry out to it. They can grieve again; they can hope again. At last, the people of Israel are able to bow down and worship the Lord.

Soon they are spreading the lamb’s blood on their doorposts, marking their homes, and preparing to be delivered out of slavery, as the Lord passes over them and prevents the Destroyer from entering their homes. At last, their chains are broken; at last their numbness and denial is ended; at last, they are free to follow the free God of Israel, and they can finally begin to imagine God’s alternative future of justice and compassion.

Embracing the Alternative Future of God
And so, they find themselves finally at the shores of the sea. As they look to the one side, they see freedom awaiting them just across the deep; as they look to the other, they see Pharaoh’s chariots bearing down on them. As they stand at the horizon of a new life, they have a decision to make: To whom will they be loyal? Will they embrace the prowess of Pharaoh and the power of the empire: its predictability, its security, together with its oppression and exploitation?

Or will they embrace the freedom of God, its risk, its struggle and hope, the alternative community of justice and compassion, together with its love of the vulnerable and its preference for the poor? The question is not whether they will be enslaved or be free to follow their own will; the question is which master they will serve.

The people stand there on the shore of the great sea, with no king, no weapons, no chariots or stallions, no rafts or barges to cross the vast sea. Only their children, their pots and pans, their meager herds, and their reluctant leader, Moses. And the Lord has them.

As the armies of Egypt approach, the people choose the freedom of serving God, and they put their trust in the Lord alone, venturing through the deep waters, and into God’s future of freedom, justice, and compassion, to be come the people of the promise, through whom God would bring about the “healing and liberation”7 of the world.

It’s a great story, the story of deliverance, of salvation. It’s the story told over and over in the Bible, the story that finds fulfillment in Jesus, who becomes the new Lamb of God, and whose blood creates a new people and liberates God’s people from bondage to power of Sin and Death.

And when we tell that story and experience it, the story becomes our calling. God stands with the slaves, the vulnerable, the poor and the oppressed, the crushed of spirit. God hears the cries of those in bondage and remembers the promise. Shackles are loosed, deathly chains are broken, and the waters parted, as God chooses to use a poor, fearful, doubting, vulnerable, and oppressed people to become the blessing of the world. Go now, the story calls us, “live in light of that liberation, practicing genuine love and justice as your part in healing the world.”8 It is a great story, indeed.

1 We want to make a distinction between the ideas expressed here and traditional liberation theology. Liberation theology has traditionally affirmed the use of violence (physical or otherwise) in achieving the ends in mind. It also frequently makes the assumption that God is on the side of a particular party, ideology, or movement and places far too much faith in the ability of human political and economic systems to create just society. Ironically, this upholds the values of the empire. In the Exodus story, the people make no such assumption. God is free to choose sides and does. Moreover, the people do not resist violently; their task is trust, obedience, and worship. The political exodus happens only because the people have already made the exodus out of Egypt’s consciousness and value systems, including Egypt’s violence and the religion of the domesticated deity.
2 Ex. 6:9.
3 Ex. 5:15-16.
4 We need a broader definition of politics, beyond the influence of legislative and executive authorities. Other political acts include worship, micro-loans, community development, disaster relief, evangelism, claiming Jesus as Lord, and simply being the church. Yet often these practices do lead to engagement with governing powers.
5 Ex. 8:17-18, NRSV.
6 Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, 12.
7 Ted Grimsrud, “Salvation Story,” Mennonite Weekly Review (June 15, 2009).
8 Ted Grimsrud, “Reliving Liberation,” Mennonite Weekly Review (June 29, 2009).