“Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand.” – Deuteronomy 5:15
Five times in the book of Deuteronomy the people are commanded to remember their time of slavery in Egypt and that God freed them for something more… During Sunday worship, we have once again been reading through the Exodus account. I can’t hear these stories without hearing my Judaism professor emphasizing that the Israelites left slavery under Pharaoh so that they might become servants of God; they exchanged unjust slavery for servitude to a just God. It is a movement into a new way of being in the world in the midst of great change.
Even as we’ve been reading the Exodus story in church, I’ve also been busy with rehearsals for our fall community theatre musical: Fiddler on the Roof (Sherry McElhatton is Golda – the co-star, and once again the girls and I are in the chorus). The story of Fiddler is a different kind of Exodus story, a people being forced out of their homes by Tsarist Russia. It’s sobering to rehearse a show that takes place in or near Ukraine with lots of references to Kiev even as this year’s news has had Russia once again exerting its power in this region. The Jews in Fiddler are cast out of what they know toward an unknown future, they become refugees – as have so many through the ages. In the midst of change they struggle to maintain their “traditions,” holding onto the past until they are forced to alter their lives. It is a story that repeats itself in so many ways through history. And interestingly, even for a people commanded over and over again to remember, all of God’s people forget that God has always pushed God’s people toward change and the path always leads us into a new future with a faithful God. It doesn’t matter whether this narrative is about a musical that opened on Broadway 50 years ago, or the story it recalls, or a Pastor who turned 50 a few weeks ago. We are called to be a people moving into the promise of tomorrow.
As I’ve lived this dynamic of change and hope, I have been thinking about how we move into the unknown. I remember decades ago coming to the wisdom that running away from something rarely works, while running toward something rarely fails. As a young person it was the hard lesson that came from trying to run away from my fears or distress only to find that I had carefully packed them away in the baggage of my soul. And it was also the exciting lesson of moving into the future with only half-baked dreams and watching how tomorrows unfolded in ways that were not always anticipated… but that always brought growth. God was offering the Israelites a new future that remembered their story but that moved beyond it – and human nature had them desperately hanging on even as they knew better.
This is the stuff of personal journeys, institutional change. It is also the stuff of rethinking how we address the brokenness of our world. We are supposed to be a people who are light and salt for the earth, but often we fail to remember where we’ve come from. And even more often we fail to be bold enough to trust in God’s ways for the future. We dismiss the power of love and faith. We try to find ways to peace instead of following Jesus and letting peace be the way. God has steadily been inviting us to stop being enslaved by the ways of the world so that we might more fully serve God in our neighbor, in creation, in all that we do and are. Remember, dream, and trust. God is always guiding us into new tomorrows. Shalom,