Sermon for Proper 18 Year A

Today we have the giving of instructions for the first Passover. It’s a familiar story, but a difficult one. The instructions for the killing of lambs, to be eaten and shared – there is care for households who don’t have a lamb or couldn’t eat a whole one – neighbours are to care for eachother. The painting of the blood on the doorposts – a sign for the God who will leave these houses alone, but kill the firstborn of humans and animals of all other households.

Behind this event lies the suffering and slavery of God’s people. The glory days of Joseph are over; days when there was success and prosperity, stability and respect. A new Pharaoh saw the Israelits as a threat – he thought there were too many of them, he didn’t like their strange ways, their different religion, their large families, their success. They made him nervous – possibly jealous. Instead of seeing their cultural and economic endeavours as a positive contribution to the life of the nation, he saw it as a threat. And so the persecution began. He set them to hard labour, then to impossible labour – and he punished them when they failed.

I was watching a programme on BBC Iplayer about the Windrush scandal. How people from the Caribbean had the right to come and live in the UK because they were in the Commonwealth. It started with soldiers who had fought for Britain in the war and so had experienced life here. After the war some came to settle here, bringing their families and then they were followed by their friends. The UK was actually really short of workers and many of the Windrush immigrants were skilled workers, but the government was furiously backtracking on its obligations, whilst recruiting people from Eurpope to fill the vacant posts – even some who had been in the SS – simply because the Windrush people were black. This had to be done tactfully because the government couldn’t be seen to be racist, but government documents now available for scrutiny show that the government was busy trying to exclude black people without being seen to do so. David Olusaga draws a line directly from this episode to Enoch Powell and his ‘rivers of blood’. Pharaoh slots nicely into this story – he allowed suspicion to grow in his mind, turning hardworking and loyal citizens into dangerous aliens. It is a story which still rings true today. 

Back to the Passover: now the moment of judgement has arrived. God will set his people free, and the Egyptians will suffer. We know, these days, that God doesn’t intervene in such a way. Innocent people suffer endlessly, and the rich and wealthy go largely unchallenged – so often it seems that the wealthiest are beyond the law. The Jews themselves, as we know, suffered unimaginable hardship, millions of deaths, less than 100 years ago. Where was God then? For many, God did not intervene.

I think this story is like a foretaste of what is to come; because Christians do still believe in God’s judgement. We don’t know how, or when – but the oppressors will be judged, and the oppressed will receive freedom and healing. Jesus talked about this – remember the parable of the sheep and the goats: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ and  ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 

The Passover is a story of hope for us then – that injustice and cruelty have not gone unnoticed by God; that one day, the price of injustice will come to a reckoning. It is a timeless story – it continues to be relevant. All the terrible things that are happening in the world – the brutality of international companies that are fuelling climate changing and care only about their profits: the iniquity of the garment trade which consigns poor people to work in terrible conditions in factories: the pollution of the water companies, pouring raw sewage into our rivers and oceans whilst rewarding their shareholders with increased dividends: our treatment of refugees, many of whom are highly qualified people who have skills to offer that could help to meet our shortages – how this reminds me of Pharaoh and his attitude towards the people of Israel: the trafficking and suffering of children. God has noticed and God will judge.

The trouble with a belief in future judgement is that it has a tendency to make people complacent – sometimes even the victims who can sometimes settle into their oppression and settle for freedom in the next life. Jesus shows us that, as Christians, we are called to active resistance. He befriended people who were social outcasts – tax collectors, women of ill repute  and other sinners. He healed the sick, fed the hungry and spent his time with people who were right on the edge of society – the people who made good people turn their noses up in disgust and look the other way. 

Our calling is to follow. Christians have long been involved in healing and campaigning, being alongside those in need, listening, providing food for hungry people, and water for thirsty people, clothes for people with nothing. I have recently spent time with three women who just sit and listen to people who are lonely – it is hard work because lonely people often forget how to make conversation – and at the end these three women feel they’ve wasted their time. But those conversations could be the only conversation these people have in a week. It is Godly work – much harder than handing out food or the other practical things that need to be done. 

The Exodus story shows us that God is on the side of poor, oppressed and marginalised people. This is sometimes called God’s preferential  option for the poor. This historical story which, for us, is about the judgement at the end of time, is a reminder to us that this is our calling too – to follow in the footsteps of Our Lord in this world. To do nothing is to side with the oppressor. 

I think Jesus saw people as fellow humans and treated them as such. This is the opposite of Pharaoh who seems to have forgotten his shared humanity with others. Watch out for this in the coming week – the times when, in the paper or on tv, people are made out to be less than human – less than the precious children of our shared Heavenly Father.

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