Friday, March 23, 2018

Daily Lesson for March 21, 2018

Today’s Daily Lesson comes from Exodus chapter 9 verses 22-30, and 33-34.
22 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand towards heaven so that hail may fall on the whole land of Egypt, on humans and animals and all the plants of the field in the land of Egypt.’ 23Then Moses stretched out his staff towards heaven, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and fire came down on the earth. And the Lord rained hail on the land of Egypt; 24there was hail with fire flashing continually in the midst of it, such heavy hail as had never fallen in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. 25The hail struck down everything that was in the open field throughout all the land of Egypt, both human and animal; the hail also struck down all the plants of the field, and shattered every tree in the field. 26Only in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were, there was no hail. 27 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. 28Pray to the Lord! Enough of God’s thunder and hail! I will let you go; you need stay no longer.’29Moses said to him, ‘As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord; the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s.30But as for you and your officials, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.’ . . . 33So Moses left Pharaoh, went out of the city, and stretched out his hands to the Lord; then the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain no longer poured down on the earth. 34But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned once more and hardened his heart, he and his officials.

Jesus said the sun rises on the good and the evil and the rain falls on the just and the unjust. But —at least in this case — the hail fell only on the hard-hearted Egyptians.

The hearts were softened by the disaster. But then, they were hardened again. 

Which makes hail a perfect metaphor for Pharaoh and his officials. Just as the appearance of H2O can be liquid or solid or vapor and yet still be the same substance, Pharaoh’s hard heart can soften under certain conditions but then harden again once the conditions change.

Moses knows who Pharaoh really is and Moses won’t buy the promises Pharaoh makes in weakness. Pharaoh’s heart is hard and his words are no good. Once the winds change, he’s right back to who he’s always been.

Moses will strike a deal with Pharaoh for today. But Moses also knows that in spite of whatever gestures Pharaoh might make under current political conditions, the Israelites will need to watch out because it’s still the same old Pharaoh in substance. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Daily Lesson for March 20, 2017

Today’s Daily Lesson comes from Exodus chapter 7 verses 1 through 4:

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh and say to him, “Thus says the Lord: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 2If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs. 3The river shall swarm with frogs; they shall come up into your palace, into your bedchamber and your bed, and into the houses of your officials and of your people, and into your ovens and your kneading bowls. 4The frogs shall come up on you and on your people and on all your officials.” ’

The frog is the ancient symbol for change. A frog starts off in an egg and is then born as a tadpole. Later in its life cycle the tadpole begins the process of transformation, developing into an immature frog with tadpole-like tail, and then into a fully mature frog. 

The LORD is telling Pharaoh he must change. He must change the way he governs. He must change his policies. He must change the way he exerts his authority. His hard heart must change. So too must the hearts of his officials and the rest of Egyptian households. 

But people seldom change without having to. Pharaoh is resistant to change. So too are his government officials. So too are the Egypt people.  They refuse to change willingly. 

The frogs warn Pharaoh he will have no choice. Tadpoles always have to change into frogs — even if they’re really enjoying being tadpoles. Even a stone-hearted man like him will not be able to resist what is happening around him. Change is coming upon the land, whether Pharaoh likes it or not. 

Change is coming upon the land. It will not look the same in the future as it has in the past. The LORD has decided it. 

What the ruler Pharaoh is left to decide then is whether or not he and his government are ready to change also, whether or not they will continue to misuse and abuse their authority. Pharaoh will have to decide just how worth it having a hard heart that doesn’t listen to the people really is.  

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Daily Lesson for March 19, 2018

Today’s Daily Lesson comes from Exodus chapter 7 verses 14 through 19:

14 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. 15Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water; stand by at the river bank to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that was turned into a snake. 16Say to him, “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you to say, ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.’ But until now you have not listened. 17Thus says the Lord, ‘By this you shall know that I am the Lord.’ See, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall be turned to blood. 18The fish in the river shall die, the river itself shall stink, and the Egyptians shall be unable to drink water from the Nile.”’ 19The Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron, “Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over its rivers, its canals, and its ponds, and all its pools of water—so that they may become blood; and there shall be blood throughout the whole land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.” ’

Pharaoh’s sins have come back to haunt him. 

Pharaoh’s order — begun eighty years before — to have all the male Hebrew babies drowned in the Nile River meets its judgment and ultimate consequence first of the Ten Plagues as the Nile is turned to blood. 

Just as the blood of Abel cried out from the earth after he was killed by his brother Cain, so now the blood of the Hebrew children reveals itself in the Nile River and all the vessels and basins that have ever drawn from it. 

Pharaoh thought he had forever done away with the lives of these children; but the LORD could still hear their cries. For to the LORD, these children were still alive. 

William Faulkner famously wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”  Now the dark sins of Pharaoh’s and Egypt’s past were surfacing to the light of the present day.

The point: a person or a nation who has never really confessed, or made amends, or sought repentance will again be plagued by the sins of its past. This is the mandate for the processes of truth and of reconciliation. 

The Israelites know the truth and the truth will set them free. What Pharaoh does not understand is that the truth could set him free also. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Daily Lesson for March 18, 2018

Today’s Daily Lesson comes from Exodus chapter 5 verses 1 through 9:
Afterwards Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.” ’ 2But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.’3Then they said, ‘The God of the Hebrews has revealed himself to us; let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God, or he will fall upon us with pestilence or sword.’ 4But the king of Egypt said to them, ‘Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their work? Get to your labours!’ 5Pharaoh continued, ‘Now they are more numerous than the people of the land and yet you want them to stop working!’ 6That same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people, as well as their supervisors, 7‘You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves.8But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it, for they are lazy; that is why they cry, “Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.” 9Let heavier work be laid on them; then they will labour at it and pay no attention to deceptive words.’

Pharaoh never backs down lightly.

True change is hard-earned because power never concedes power unless it absolutely has to. 

Moses and Aaron begin with a moral appeal: “Thus says the LORD!” But Pharaoh doesn’t know the LORD so a moral appeal will not work. 

Social pressure must instead be applied. Economic pressure will have to be applied. Ultimately, the whole house of Pharaoh will have to be brought to grief before he relents. 

That’s how tight-fisted Pharaohs are when it comes to power. 

In the abolition speech Frederick Douglass famously traveled the North the most oft-quoted paragraph began with the following words about the reality of the hard struggle ahead:

“Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress.”

Pharaoh will not simply give up without a fight. So if Moses, Aaron, and the rest of the Israelites really want to be free then they will have to fight. They will have to fight the good fight. And they will have to keep on fighting . . .

Monday, March 19, 2018

Daily Lesson for March 17, 2018

Today’s Daily Lesson comes from Exodus chapter 4 verses 10 through 13:

10 But Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ 11Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.’ 13But he said, ‘O my Lord, please send someone else.’

And Moses said, “Here I am LORD; send Aaron.”

The LORD would indeed send Aaron to speak to Pharaoh, but not with Moses. Moses was going because Moses was called to go. He was flat out told he had to go. 

He was scared. “My lips and tongue don’t work right,” he said. He was probably remembering all those times growing up in Pharaoh’s house where he wanted to say something and instead quivered. Instead he resulted to violence. As Dr. King said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

But forty years later, Moses has done his penance. He he’s done his hard time.  He’s penitent now; and he’s seasoned now also. He’s ready now — more ready than he knows. He would not go back to Pharaoh if he didn’t have to; but something inside compels him. Some burning bush inside him tells him he must. He’s eighty years old; and now he’s going to go and speak to Pharaoh.

Which makes me think of a group of women at our church. They call themselves Grandmothers Against Violence. Grandmothers who are sick and tired of hearing about gun violence and mass shooting have decided they are going to go down with the youth to the March For Our Lives this weekend and lend their voices to the call for change to our nation’s gun laws. Some of them are nearing seventh and eighty years old. And they are going to speak to Pharaoh.  I don’t know if they’ve ever done anything like this or not; they seem pretty mild-mannered. But they are going to have a word with Pharaoh.

Sometimes the LORD just puts something inside of us that cannot be resisted. Pharaoh may scare us to death. We may have spent forty years running and hiding from him. But suddenly there’s a burning bush. Suddenly, now we have something to say and we know we’re the ones to say it. 

And so we say, “Here I am — a person of unclean lips, a person of quivering lips.  But here I am LORD anyways, send me.”

Friday, March 16, 2018

Daily Lesson for March 16, 2018

Today’s Daily Lesson comes from Exodus chapter 2 verses 5 through 10:

5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. ‘This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,’ she said. 7Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?’ 8Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Yes.’ So the girl went and called the child’s mother.9Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses,‘because’, she said, ‘I drew him out of the water.’

It is a fact of salvation history that there is always someone in the house of Pharaoh with a heart, who in their own ways subvert the cruel interests of the Master. 

There is always the mistress of the house who secretly teaches a slave like Frederick Douglass the basics of reading or, in the case of today’s Lesson, a daughter in the house who cannot bear the crying of one single Hebrew child — named Moses.  There is suffering and cruelty all around, but in each case one small act of compassion undermines the whole cruel slave apparatus.

It is impossible to keep all goodness at bay. Somewhere there is always enough good in someone to make a dent in evil. There is always some sliver of hope, some ray of light, some single act of love.

And even only single act of love wins. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Daily Lesson for March 15, 2018

Today’s Daily Lesson comes from Mark chapter 8 verses 34 through 37:

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”

The most alive will be are times when we are stepping out of our comfort zones, speaking up on things that matter, risking danger and loss for something good, and going beyond the boundaries of what is safe and known in order to follow Jesus into the unknown.

For some, this is the call to go across the tracks in order to volunteer at a school where the students don’t look like their children or grandchildren. For some, this is the call to go half way around the world to be witness to what God is doing amongst a religious minority community. For some this is deciding that even though they have nothing themselves to gain, fighting City Hall is still the right thing to do. 

Well, actually there is something to be gained — their lives. 

“And what will it profit them to keep the whole world and forfeit their lives.”

Our real lives are out there today. They will not be found by playing it safe, or staying within our own zip code. They are to be found by taking up a cross and following across the street, across the city, across the world.

And in losing our lives we find them, and in giving our lives as we know them away, we save them in ways we could never have imagined.