1 Aug 2021 Rob W.
Exodus 32:1-8, Luke 17:11-19
What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘religion’?
I remember hearing a quote from someone who was accused of setting religion back by ten years, to which they replied, “Only ten years. I want to get rid of it all together.”
The point is that religion carries a negative connotation for many.
Within the realm of Christianity religion as a term is ambiguous.
For some it is a comfortable word that speaks of the system of faith, for others it is more loaded with ideas around power and control.
And that is where we are heading today.
Israel was a free people.
Living under the stars and worshipping God in the land, growing from a family to a nation.
Then they found themselves in Egypt, where they encounter one of the most religious societies the world has ever known. [Eugene Peterson]
All facets of life were influenced if not controlled by religion;
Art and architecture,
Philosophy and science,
Politics and lifestyle.
We might be tempted to think that a comprehensive religious world is some kind of ideal.
Where the tenets of faith are the guiding principles of all of life.
Sounds like God’s Kingdom.
But when the religious system is not formed by a God of love and mercy, when there are egomaniacs in charge, the religious society becomes one of oppression and dehumanising enslavement.
Here is a world where what Eugene Peterson called pompous arrogant tombs were built for the dead whilst the living struggled on.
A world heavy with control and power wielded by those with religious piety in mind.
Religion was all about being busy and working hard for the goal of earning God’s favour.
Then as Israel was enslaved in Ancient Egypt, a shepherd appears and confronts the ruler of Egypt demanding the people’s freedom. A shepherd named Moses.
The people are delivered, and are prepared to live in the land, learning how to live again as free people.
It is this pattern that we see playing out in our salvation narrative.
We are enslaved to sin and death,
Helplessly we cry out to God,
We celebrate the great victory won by the Good shepherd who gains our deliverance.
But there is a warning here, too.
This generation of Israel doesn’t ever quite get there. Only 2 of them make it to the Promised Land.
Instead of heading into a life of freedom, bought by deliverance, they look back at what they had, and they want it.
We want to return they say,
Why have we come here to die they say,
We have been told what to do by our masters for so long we have no idea what to do without one!
We are impatient, without direction, we’re scared...
Makes us gods they say to Aaron.
And when they do they abuse their deliverance and deny their freedom.
Aaron complies and in doing so stops being their pastor and becomes their accomplice
The desire to be as strong as the Egyptians, to create a world of control, where God serves ambition, claimed the hearts of Israel.
After they settle in the land they begin to make slaves of their neighbours.
Israel was delivered, but they were not living free.
Deliverance is right here, but we let freedom fall through our fingers.
On Sep 22nd 1862 Abraham Lincoln spoke the Emancipation Proclamation
"That on the first day of January in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State...shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free"
Slavery was a system in the USA wholeheartedly supported by some churches.
Sojourner Truth - an abolitionist of the time said this,
“And what is that religion that sanctions, even by its silence, all that is embraced in the 'Peculiar Institution'? If there can be anything more diametrically opposed to the religion of Jesus, than the working of this soul-killing system - which is as truly sanctioned by the religion of America as are her ministers and churches - we wish to be shown where it can be found.”
Here too is a people with the power of pharaoh in their heart.
The Peculiar Institution all ended in 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect…right?
On April 4th 1968, 106 years later, MLK Jr was assassinated as he campaigned for the civil rights of black americans.
Slaves had been delivered from bondage but they were yet to enjoy freedom.
Deliverance and freedom are not the same thing.
For the people of Israel, they used their deliverance to become what they had been delivered from. They became the end-users of the work of God.
They reduced God to an amulet.
And we do the same thing.
When we keep God around for good luck, when we become what we have been delivered from and expect God to bless our ambition.
Tom Holland’s book Dominion records the rise and fall of empires throughout the ages of Western Civilisation.
The pattern goes like this...
A leader would rise up in victory claiming God’s favour in their success,
They would gather people to their cause and become powerful,
This power would then corrupt,
People would suffer oppression,
A movement of true religion would arise,
If God was with them they would find victory, or rather if they found victory God must be with them,
They would gain prominence and population,
They would become powerful,
This power would corrupt...
The pattern repeats time and again.
People have tended to look for deliverance and then enact it by becoming what enlsalved them. They look back to Egypt and want to be that powerful.
In the Luke scripture Jesus encounters 10 lepers who desire freedom and receive it.
They are understandably ecstatic and they charge off to find loved ones to hug.
All but one.
He returns to Jesus and worships.
Jesus’ words cut through our ambition and excitement and grab our hearts,
“Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?”
Where are our hearts when Jesus is on our road waiting to meet with us?
How does God respond to our shallow rejection?
The Exodus story continues on to record God saying he is going to wipe out Israel and start again with Moses and Moses is lead to intercession [Eugene Peterson].
God’s anger is always expressed with the intention of reconnection and so along with the intercession comes mercy, grace and forgiveness.
When we stumble along using words of faith like a religious veneer, when find ourselves walking around God’s life of freedom with our eyes set on Egypt-like religious power and control - God offers forgiveness.
There is a story about Jesus walking along when a blind man cries out for help [Mk 10:46-52]
Jesus says “what do you want me to do for you?”
It’s the same question he is laying before us.
Now this guy could have gotten upset, "I’m blind Jesus! Don’t you see my pain?!"
Jesus though sees so much more than the apparent, he offers so much more than relief of symptom, Jesus offers freedom.
Life lived together with him that is not spent looking back, seeking power, seeking control, seeking wealth, status, entertainment...
Sometimes when we get deliverance we enact it by perpetuating the conditions on others and in so doing we become slaves again.
Slaves to power,
God knows this about us.
So he says, ‘Since you like being slaves, come and be enslaved to me and know true freedom.’