Whom Then Shall We Serve?

Whom Then Shall We Serve?

Worship for June 14, 2020

The video worship offering of Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church in Orinda, California for the weekend of June 14, 2020. The sermon -- offered by Pastor John Valentine -- is the first of a series of sermons grounded in the Book of Exodus.

Posted by Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church on Sunday, 14 June 2020

Pentecost 2 NL2 John B. Valentine
Exodus 1:1-14 June 14, 2020

“WHOM SHALL WE SERVE?”

It’s the second Sunday of the Season of Pentecost ... folks!

That means the red banners have come down and the green banner is up ...

That means our choirs get the next couple months off ... even though we’ve already given them the past couple months off ... ha ha ...

And that means it’s time for our annual ‘Summer Break’.

You see ...

Even though COVID-19 has turned a LOT of our normal behaviors upside down ... it needn’t turn ALL of our normal behaviors upside down ...

And ONE of the behaviors that we’re going to try to hold onto is our annual ‘Summer Break’ from the lectionary for a deep dive into ONE of the books of the Bible ...

And book that we’re going to dive into this year is the second book of the Bible ... the book called ‘Exodus’.

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Now ... IF you were here in the sanctuary right now ... I think I’d make you do a ‘Turn-and-Talk’ ......

You know ... one of those chat-with-your-neighbor things ...

And make you do a little free association as to what the word ‘Exodus’ makes you think of ...

• And the Bible students among us would immediately holler out some things like “Moses” ... and “The Ten Commandments” ... and “The Burning Bush” ... and stuff like that.

• Then again ... the movie buffs might shout out “Charlton Heston” ... or “Cecil B. DeMille” ... or maybe “The Prince of Egypt”.

• And the music lovers might offer up Rossini’s four-act opera of “The Crossing of the Red Sea” ... or Bob Marley’s reggae anthem “Exodus – Movement of the People” ... or maybe even the swinging Louis Armstrong classic “Let My People Go”.

Actually ... this would be one of those ‘Turn-and-Talk’ sorts of exercises that would be REALLY difficult to call you back to order from ...

For there’s memorable stuff in the book of Exodus:

• for cooks and chefs and recipe-lovers ...
• for doctors and epidemiologists ...
• for militarists and martial artists ...
• and even lawyers and architects and interior designers.

Not to mention the fact that there is MUCH in our own nation’s history that draws heavily on the imagery of Exodus!

In other words ... there are LOTS of points of connection between our own lives and this particular book of the Bible that we already know about ...

And hopefully a whole lot of others that you’ll discover over the next couple of months ....

But ... as one of those talking heads on TV loves to say ... “Let’s get on with it!”

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Actually ... by way of formal introduction ... here’s a couple three key facts that might be helpful for you to know as we begin this journey through Exodus:

One ... the Book of Exodus ... the second book of the Bible ... is often referred to as ‘the defining narrative’ of the Old Testament.

In other words ... this book is a BIG DEAL to those who understand themselves to be numbered among God’s people.

Two ... the title word “Exodus” is a mash-up of two ancient Greek words ... “ex” and “odos” ... and literally means “The Road Out” ... which is what the story is about. And ...

Three ... it is in this Book of Exodus that God is really discovered for who God is ... the God of Israel ... the God of the Covenant ... the God who saves.

In other words ... if we don’t know the story that is Exodus ... we can’t really understand just who Jesus is ... and we don’t really know too very much about God.

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So the text for today ... the section of Exodus ... which Juanita read for us a little bit ago ... that was Exodus chapter 1 ... verses one to fourteen.

The opening verses of the book.

And their purpose is to set the stage for all it is that follows.

It starts with a brief review of the family history ... how it was that the twelve sons of Jacob ... the twelve tribes of Israel ... the extra-great-grandchildren of Abraham and Sarah ... ended up in Egypt in the first place.

But the story then relates how it was that things went from so very good to so very very awful.

You see ...

The people of Israel had initially been welcomed in Egypt because Joseph had done great things for the Pharaoh.

But Joseph died ... and the Pharaoh died ... and the memory of their relationship ... and the memory of Joseph’s service to Egypt died with them.

Not that we ... any of us ... ever forget history.

It’s like that old joke that is told of the five stages of fame ... as told by a talent agent And I’ll tell it on my dear departed father-in-law ... because he was a fairly famous doctor back in the day ... and because he thought this was the most truthful joke he’d ever heard:

• Stage one ... “Who’s Fred Zuspan?”
• Stage two ... “Get me Fred Zuspan!”
• Stage three ... “Get me someone like Fred Zuspan!”
• Stage four ... “Get me a younger Fred Zuspan!”
• Stage five ... “Who’s Fred Zuspan?”

Anyhow ... in these opening words of Exodus ... the Egyptians have gone full cycle ...

• From Pharaoh asking ... “Who’s Joesph?”
• To ... “Get me Joseph!”
• To ... “Just get me someone like Joseph!”
• To ... “Get me a younger Joseph!”
• Back to ... “Who was Joseph?”

But their forgetfulness then is compounded by a second reality ....

That the Israelites have been really good at making babies.

The Israelites seem to have taken seriously the commandment to Adam and Eve back in the Garden to “be fruitful and multiply” ...

But ... in so doing ... have gone from being a curiousity in the Egyptians’ eyes ... to being an inconvenience ... to being perceived as a threat.

And so the Egyptians do what the political ‘haves’ almost always do to the ‘have-nots’ in such a case as this ... they bring the whole weight of the system to bear against them.

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Did you perchance notice the choice of words which the scripture writers used to embellish the narrative that they wanted us to hear?

“Come ... let us deal shrewdly with them ... or this situation may get out of hand ...“

”Let us be deal ruthlessly with them ... or this situation may go from bad to worse ...”

“Let us oppress them ... lest they oppress us.”

Shrewd ... ruthless ... oppressive.

The sorts of accusatory words that we use to describe the way the Nazis treated European Jewry back in the late 1930's.

Shrewd ... ruthless ... oppressive.

The sorts of accusatory words that Martin Luther King used to describe the way the grandchildren of former slave-owners treated the grandchildren of former slaves in the early 1960's.

Shrewd ... ruthless ... oppressive.

The sorts of accusatory words that our nation’s founding fathers used to describe the British royalists back before 1776.

Shrewd ... ruthless ... oppressive.

The sorts of accusatory words that some are voicing on the streets of cities across our land even today.

Now ...

I don’t know how you hear those words when they’re bandied about these days ...

I don’t know how those words resonate in your heart when you encounter them ...

• But I DO know shrewdness and ruthlessness and oppression have been the marks of death-dealers like Pharaoh from the beginnings of time ....

And that they are precisely NOT the marks of our life-dealing God.

• And I do know that ... as wise as it may seem at the time to be shrewd and ruthless and even ‘oppressive’ ... that ... as people of God ... we best not go there.

• And I do know that ... while these issues that we’re staring down these days in our society may just seem socio-political to our way of thinking ...

When words like “shrewdness” and “ruthlessness” and “oppression” enter the conversation ... we cannot doubt but that God is paying attention.

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But ... at the end of the day ... I think this text begs of us an even bigger question.

Actually ... it gives us the first hints of the question that the whole of the Book of Exodus really asks ...

And it’s found in the portion of the lesson right at the end which read: “The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.”

Because although the standard English translations of those two verses only use the word “serve” once in those two verses ...

The original Hebrew text seems to use the word five times ... as in:

“So they made the people serve with rigor, and made the ir lives bitter with backbreaking service in mortar and brick, and with every kind of service in the field; with every kind of service they made them serve with rigor.”

Such that it’s all about service ... and it’s all about serving ... and it’s all about begging the question of WHOM will the People of God serve ...

• The political powers of the day????

• Or the Creator of Heaven and Earth???

For at the end of this journey ... God’s people are going to be posed a question ... a question that each of us have to answer for ourselves ... a question embodied in these words:

“Choose this day whom you will serve ... but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Our worship offering for the weekend of June 14, 2020 begins our walk through the Book of Exodus — from Captivity to Community.  The sermon was preached by Pastor John Valentine on the text of Exodus 1:1-14:

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. The total number of people born to Jacob was seventy.

Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation. But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.”

Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.

The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.