“Plagued with Problems”

“Plagued with Problems”

Worship for the Weekend of June 28, 2020

The weekly worship video of Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church in Orinda, California

Posted by Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church on Sunday, 28 June 2020

Pentecost 4 NL2 John B. Valentine
Exodus 11:1-10 June 28, 2020


It had to be a couple three months ago ... right after Easter maybe.

I was out for my daily walk ... trying to ‘get my steps in’.

Actually ... as I recall ... it was a gloriously beautiful Spring afternoon ...

• Warm but not hot ...
• Fresh but not windy ...
• Bright but not glaring ...

An absolutely perfect day to get off the pavement and up into the hills.

And so I decided to take a detour ... and head back to our house by way of the Moraga Ranch Trail that runs along the ridge above Sanders Ranch.

Anyhow ... the trail I followed was well-marked and well-worn ...

• Along a creekbed and over a couple of bridges ...
• Then up a steep hill and out into the sunshine ...
• Then ... lo and behold ... into a sea of lush waist-high grasses and wildflowers ...
• And ... so I was thinking ... lickety-split I’d be back at our house.

But nine/tenths of the way there ... things suddenly turned from glorious to not-so-good.

The trail that I was on suddenly dropped down into a wallow of mud and water with what looked like no way through.

• Solid footings gave way to slippery slogging ...
• Beauty gave way to ugliness ...
• Neatness gave way to chaos ...
• Order became disorder ...

And ... needless to say ... my ‘quick-trip-home’ was unexpectedly ‘interrupted’.

+ + + + +

What DOES one do when faced with a dilemma like that?

Turn around and head back the way from whence you came?

Try to dance ... as other hikers obviously had done ... from log to dry spot to rock to landing area ... though some of the footprints in that wallow evidenced more success than others?

Or maybe just accept the inevitable and slog on through ... and consign your shoes to a trip through the washing machine?

Pastor Pam suggested last week ... when Moses was confronted by a burning bush ... that we should play “If You Could Choose?” ... “A”, “B” or “C”.

And that seems a pretty apt approach to where we’re headed with this morning’s lesson.

When ... on your journey through life ... you suddenly find that beauty gives way to ugliness ... that neatness gives way to chaos ... and that order becomes disorder ... when the trail disappears ...would you prefer to:

“A” ... do a quick U-Turn and head back from whence you came ... because discretion – after all – is the better part of valor? ....

“B” ... rely on your natural abilities and attempt to weave your way through the hazards ahead ... because – after all – you’re smarter than the average bear? Or ....

“C” ... just suck it up and slog on through ... because – when the going gets tough – the tough get going?

I’d LIKE to think that I’m a “B” ... after all ... I AM ‘smarter than the average bear’ ...

But THAT day ... and I suspect MOST days ... I’m more of a “C” than a “B” ...

And the need for my shoes to take a trip through the washing machine that evening was a reminder of that reality.

+ + + + +

Anyhow ... hold on to that thought ... for this morning’s Bible lesson was a strange one.

It was an accounting of the final in a series of plagues that God brought down upon Egypt ... a story that I suspect some of you are a bit familiar with.

Remember how ... last week ... Moses was called by God to go before the Pharaoh and say “Let God’s people go”???

And Moses fired off his litany of objections ... culminating with “But I get all mealy-mouthed when asked to speak in public!”

Anyhow ... between the text we heard last week and the one you just heard ...

Moses and his brother Aaron have gone before the Pharaoh not once ... not twice ... but TEN times ...

• The first time they went ... there was this weird magic duel like something straight out of Harry Potter ... at the end of which Moses says to Aaron and Aaron says to Pharaoh ... “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.”

And Pharaoh says “To Hell with you” ... and the waters of the Nile are turned to blood.

• So Moses and Aaron go back to Pharaoh a second time and say“Let these people go, so that they may worship God.”

And Pharaoh says “To Hell with you” ... and then there’s a plague of frogs.

• Then there’s gnats ... then flies ...

• Then a disease which strikes livestock and another which strikes people ...

• Then a series of violent storms ... and locusts ... and then darkness ...

• And finally ... this one of which Sharon read for us ... this plague of death on all the firstborn of the land.

+ + + + +

Now I don’t know how all this sounds to any of the rest of you ... but part of me wonders if we shouldn’t all be saying “Been there, done that!”

I mean ... somewhere or other this week I saw a picture of the opening screen of a video game ... wherein you’re supposed to set the level of difficulty of a game you might wish to play ... and it offered up these four choices:

• Novice ...
• Intermediate ...
• Expert ... and
• 2020.

I mean ... there was an article in the New York Times earlier this week in which columnist David Brooks identifies five gigantic changes happening in America right now ... all at the same time ... all at once:

• We’re losing the fight against COVID-19.
• We’re undergoing a rapid re-education as to the burdens born by African-Americans.
• We’re in the middle of a major political realignment.
• We’re experiencing the rise of the Social Justice movement as a primary cultural viewpoint.
• And we could be on the verge of a prolonged economic depression.

Any one of those things is a big deal ... but all of them together kind of feels like these plagues.

And I can’t but imagine that some of us ... maybe “many of us” ... have wondered if perhaps God is trying to tell US something amid all this mayhem ...

Even as God was trying to get a message through to Pharaoh in the days of Moses and Aaron???

But is that really true ... and ... if so ... what is the message?

+ + + + +

Actually ... I have to tell you ... I DON’T KNOW.

IF all this craziness is part-and-parcel of a message TO someone in particular from God ... I don’t know what it is.

I’m an outsider to that conversation .... and I’d warn you to be awfully leery of ANYONE who tells you that they are an insider to that conversation!

You see ... I’m ... for my part ... am just like all those millions of everyday Egyptians and Israelites who weren’t privy to the conversations going on in the Royal Palace ... who only observed bad thing after bad thing after bad thing.

And I can’t but imagine that those everyday folks found themselves wondering exactly what was going on.

But here’s what I DO know.

That if we want to understand the story of these plagues ... we have to see them in light of the Creation story from WAY back at the beginning of Genesis.

+ + + + +

Remember that story?? “On the first day” ... “On the second day” ... “On the third day”???

What was it that God DID in the Creation story?

• God brought order from disorder ... “separating” this from that.
• God brought forth beauty from ugliness ... “and it was good”.
• God brought forth structure from chaos ... “dry land” and “seasons” and “night and day”.

In other words ... the whole Creation story is this declaration that God is a God whose business is that of CREATING CONDITIONS THAT FACILITATE LIFE.

In fact ... the whole of the Creation story is this giant affirmation that God is a life-giving, life-loving, life-encouraging God ...

And that anything ... or anyone ... and EVERYthing and EVERYone ... who is opposed to life is opposed to God.

Not just in the narrow “pro-life” sense used in political-speak today ... but in the biggest and the broadest sense possible!

Problem is ... this Pharaoh character here at the opening of Exodus is the biggest death-dealer of them all. For everything that Pharaoh does is contrary to God’s affirmation of life:

• Be it drowning Israelite babies in the Nile ....
• Be it demanding back-breaking labor from God’s people ...
• Be it directing his troops to impose ‘law and order’ on a suffering population ...
• Be it denying workers materials just so they might suffer all the more.

You see .... Pharaoh has embraced a counterfeit vision of life ... ad:

• Pharaoh’s phony petty vision of life is really just ‘death’ in the eyes of God.
• Pharaoh’s phony petty vision of law-and-order is ‘chaos’ in the eyes of God.
• Pharaoh’s phony petty vision of beauty is ‘ugliness’ in the eyes of God.
• Pharaoh’s phony petty vision of justice is ‘anything but’ in the eyes of God.

And so it seems that these plagues have to do with a Creation ... and ultimately a Creator ... saying “Enough is enough.”

+ + + + +

So what’s the ‘take-home’ message of all this for US as the people of God today?

I’m not quite sure ...

But part of it has to do with making sure that our visions of life and order and beauty ... and justice for that matter ... align with the expansive and inclusive vision of the Creator of all that is ...

And NOT with the phony, petty, counterfeit visions of life and order and beauty and justice espoused by ALL of the Pharaohs of THIS world.

Then again ... part of it has to do with the awareness that sometimes all Creation cries out that our ways ... OUR behaviors ... are contrary to God’s expansive, inclusive vision of life for ALL that God has made.

For that’s what Saint Paul was talking about when he said: “For the creation itself waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.”

But ... finally ... at the end of the day ... I think there’s some GOOD news in this story ...

For remember how ... at the beginning of this sermon ... we wondered about what we might do when:

• Beauty gives way to ugliness ...
• Neatness gives way to chaos ... and
• Order becomes disorder?

Our options were:

• Turn around ...
• Try to use our talents and abilities to get through unscathed ... and
• Just slog on through .... right??

But we’re about to discover that God has another option ... another way through ... a way that we couldn’t even begin to imagine ...

That God WILL make a way when there seems to be no way ...

That God’s ways are not our ways ...

But ... for that story ... you’re going to have to tune in again next week.

“Plagued with Problems” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine on the weekend of June 28, 2020.  It is part of an ongoing sermon series focusing on the Book of Exodus.  The particular text was Exodus 11:1-10.

The Lord said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go from here; indeed, when he lets you go, he will drive you away. Tell the people that every man is to ask his neighbor and every woman is to ask her neighbor for objects of silver and gold.” The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, Moses himself was a man of great importance in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s officials and in the sight of the people.

Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out through Egypt. Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock. Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again.

But not a dog shall growl at any of the Israelites — not at people, not at animals — so that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. Then all these officials of yours shall come down to me, and bow low to me, saying, ‘Leave us, you and all the people who follow you.’ After that I will leave.” And in hot anger he left Pharaoh.

The Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, in order that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.