4th Sunday after Epiphany 

January 29, 2023

First Reading: Micah 6:1-8

1Hear what the Lord says:
  Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
  and let the hills hear your voice.
2Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
  and you enduring foundations of the earth;
 for the Lord has a controversy with his people,
  and he will contend with Israel.

3“O my people, what have I done to you?
  In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
4For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
  and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
 and I sent before you Moses,
  Aaron, and Miriam.
5O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
  what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
 and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
  that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”

6“With what shall I come before the Lord,
  and bow myself before God on high?
 Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
  with calves a year old?
7Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
  with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
 Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
  the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
  and what does the Lord require of you
 but to do justice, and to love kindness,
  and to walk humbly with your God?

Psalm: Psalm 15

1Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle?
  Who may abide upon your holy hill?
2Those who lead a blameless life and do what is right,
  who speak the truth from their heart;
3they do not slander with the tongue, they do no evil to their friends;
  they do not cast discredit upon a neighbor.
4In their sight the wicked are rejected, but they honor those who fear the Lord.
  They have sworn upon their health and do not take back their word.
5They do not give their money in hope of gain, nor do they take bribes against the innocent.
  Those who do these things shall never be overthrown.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

18The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written,
 “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
  and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
26Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12

1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Children’s Sermon:  The Bear and the Bees by Aesop

A Bear roaming the woods happened on a fallen tree in which a swarm of Bees had stored their honey. Just then one of the bees came home. Guessing what the Bear was after, the bee flew at him, stung him sharply and then disappeared into the hollow log. The Bear lost his temper and sprang upon the log to destroy the nest. This brought out the whole swarm. The poor Bear had to take to his heels. He was able to save himself only by diving into a pool of water.

What is the bear in your life?  Who is in your swarm?

Let us pray.  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, My Rock and My Redeemer.

SERMON

      Today starts the fourth week in Epiphany and we are finally getting to Jesus’ State of the Union Address, the Sermon on the Mount.  It may not be January 20th when our President addressed Congress about the condition of affairs in the United States but Jesus is giving a similar overview of his kingdom. We see Matthew opening this gospel by presenting Jesus, “Son of God” as the great teacher and revealer of truth about how life works best.  Jesus is going to tell us about life in his kingdom.  It will help us clarify whom we are seeking and where we can find him.

      Jesus sees the crowds, the people who are checking him out to see if he is the person John the Baptist was speaking about, the promised Messiah, the one who would “deal with” the Romans and the horrible living conditions in Israel at the time.  I suspect those people longed for life to be like the days of Solomon when silver was so common, no one kept track of it.  Even we long “to be great again.”  Perhaps we don’t call it that but for some of us, memories of our youth when we could do so many things, haunt our present leaving a sour taste in our mouth.  Ah, for the good ole days.  The unknowns of tomorrow can appear to us like that bear sniffing around the log.  And perhaps we feel like that little bee, guarding our little contribution to life.  Jesus opens the scene, not in the forest where we might find a bear but on a mountaintop, that liminal space between heaven and earth.

     According to Matthew, Jesus, in the face of the call to ministry to the needy people following him, first climbs the mountain and teaches his disciples who join him.  It is a scene reminiscent of Moses who went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments.  Jesus will go up a mountain for the Transfiguration.  Jesus is crucified on Mount Calvary.  Important things happen on mountains, those liminal spaces between heaven and earth.  Many of us retreat to the lake cabin or some quiet place away from the bustle and confusion of life to sort ourselves out.  Some of us have developed the journaling discipline. Before we start a challenge, before we start tomorrow, we must know what we believe and whom we are facing.  We must know whom we are seeking and where to find him.  It is here on the mountaintop that Jesus gives us a picture of the Kingdom of Heaven that he is ushering in and the sort of God he is.

Bears

      The kingdom of Heaven is different than the Kingdom of this World. The kingdom Jesus is telling us about is unlike this world where bears seek to devour our honey.  In this world we are plagued by discouragement (poor in spirit), grief (mourning), pride and arrogance, cruelty, deception, war and persecution.  Do I hear anyone saying, “Amen!” or are we comfortable in our wealth?  The wolf of Little Red Riding Hood may wear Grandma’s clothes and promise her all sorts of goodies if she would use his products for health and beauty, use his investment schemes for wealth and prosperity, buy his insurance products to deal with those hard times or vote his philosophy into government but the solutions the world offers are temporary.  Jesus presents a different perspective. He starts with the truth. Life is hard. Bears are sniffing around the log where we are storing our honey.  But that is not the whole picture?

Bees

    Jesus encourages us to look closer and he shares the “bee – attitudes”.  His kingdom confronts the Kingdom of this World with “Bee” “Attitudes”-beatitudes.  He tells us where true blessings are found in this opening section of his sermon. The Kingdom of Heaven is not going to defeat the bear with a gun and war but by the person we will become as we follow Jesus and learn to live in kingdom ways.  We will not defeat the bear by being bigger and stronger.  Like a tiny bee we will be armed with the Spirit of God so that

  • Those times that discourage us and make us feel poor in spirit will become times when actually we are forced to find strength in the kingdom of heaven.  Our problems lead us deeper into God’s love.  Tough times are times of grace.
  • Those times when we mourn and are overcome with grief, the Holy Spirit will draw close and comfort us.  He will wrap his arms around us. And! And we will be comforted by the body of Christ.  Comfort is not found in alcohol, drugs, sex or worldly pleasures. The God we seek is a God that comforts the mourners.
  • Those times when violence reigns, the meekness of the kingdom that loves the enemy and helps the helpless will help us inherit this world, not war.  Hate cannot produce love but love covers a multitude of sins.
  • Those times when we give mercy and forgiveness rather than vengeance, hate and anger, we learn to receive the mercy and forgiveness of God that we need when we blow it.
  • Those times when we are confused by doubt and seek God with our whole heart, he will reveal himself and not be far off and busy in Washington.  We do not climb up to God but he is here with us in our hard times.
  • Those times of war, persecution and misunderstanding, God will not flee from us and we will be known by his presence in our lives.

It is in the midst of the bears of life that seek to destroy us that we build our faith, find our God active and involved, and learn to recognize God actively fighting evil.  It is in hard times that we find the Kingdom of Heaven, grace and a God who cares enough to enter the messes of life with us. Jesus is the Son of God revealing the Kingdom of Heaven to us.

      The beatitudes are not a Christian formula for getting the good life. They are not a new set of laws. The beatitudes tell us that life in the kingdom of this world is hard but there is another reality, another kingdom being built, that is not so apparent. That kingdom defeats the ugliness of this world and that kingdom is a gift of grace from God.  We see glimpses of it in the beauty of sunrises and sunsets.  We see it in the laughter of children.  We experience it in hugs of friends and family.  We cry in relief when we are forgiven as we come to the table of communion.  The bear does not come to create beauty, love, joy and forgiveness. The wolf is wearing Grandma’s clothes only to deceive us. Jesus is not wearing human forms to deceive us but incarnates along side us and lets us know he cares and will rescue us as we turn to him.

12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

      Jesus reminds us that when rough times come, the company of saints experienced our same situations.  We are not alone. We are part of a swarm.  The little bee in our story, all by itself is way out matched by the bear.  The bee has a “swarm” that it is part of and Jesus is ushering in a kingdom of bees to support each other and to remind us of the truth of God when we feel attacked by the bears of life.  Little Red Riding Hood could not fight the wolf by herself but it was as the woodsman came to her rescue that she was saved and able to free her real Grandma.

      So whom are we seeking?  Are we seeking a god who will promise to come in and kill the bear for us and give us the good life or are we seeking a God who walks with us, partners with us, in the midst of the problems of this world, creating a better world and ultimately declaring, “Well done my good and faithful servant.  Enter into your father’s delight.”

      So where do we find the God Jesus is the son of?  We find God in the midst of problems.  He is there with us, enabling us, encouraging us, and involved in his creation.

      The bear runs away and jumps into a pool of water.  Sounds like baptism to me.  As we believe and identify with Jesus in our baptism, the Holy Spirit comes to live in us and help us conquer the bears of life.  And we join a body of believers that is world wide, the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let the people of God say, “Amen,” may it be so!

 

 


“Do not be afraid”

August 24, 2022

Acts 18: 1-11

         “Do not be afraid.” I love those words.  Fear seems so real and is so crippling!  I sometimes think “fear” is my middle name.  My confirmation verse was Isaiah 41:10 that opens, “So do not fear, for I am with you.”

Paul has now traveled from Athens to Corinth in today’s reading and Paul is reunited with Timothy and Silas.  Again we see a pattern in Paul’s life.  He starts sharing in the synagogue.  Some Jews and Gentiles believe and others object.  Paul moves his place of sharing to the home of Titius Crispus, a worshipper of God, who lived next door.  Paul himself must have recognized the pattern and feared that mobs, beatings and prison were about to unfold.  We sometimes think Paul was a super believer and never doubted but this little scene shows us a human fearing the future and a God who reaches out to him to comfort and assure him.  It is a tender moment looking at the process of spiritual growth.

         “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision; ‘Do not be afraid; keep         on speaking, do not b silent.  For I am with you and no one is going to     attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’”

         I do not know what fears plague you today.  Perhaps the mistakes of the past will side swipe you in the future.  Maybe the secrets of the past will become known.  Someone who out performs you in an area you are proud of may come on the scene.  Then there are the fears from the outside forces of disease or politics.  Some of us grieve loss and fear we will not be strong to carry on.  God comes to us and comforts us that he knows, he sees and he is walking with us into and through our future.  “Do not fear, I am with you,” says the Lord.  Thank you.  Blessings as you face your fears with the Lord.


“The Bottom Line”

August 9, 2022

Acts 15: 12-28

Paul and Barnabas arrive in Jerusalem to report to the elders.  How is the dynamic of Gentiles coming to faith be combined with the existing Jewish believers?  Should the Gentile believers be required to become Jews and accept the Mosaic law or is something new becoming evident?  Sometimes we only see through a glass dimly as the future approaches.  The elders  in Jerusalem listen silently and recognize the bottom line.  God initiated life in the Gentiles.  The Gentiles demonstrated the same dynamics as the early believers showing the presence of the Holy Spirit.  They referred to Scripture and saw that what was happening was fulfilling prophecy.  Therefore…  

         The bottom line was that God was working with the Gentiles.  But what was the bottom line of how to proceed.  Four criteria were agreed to be basic.  Do not eat food polluted by idols.  Do not be involved with sexual immorality.  Do not eat meat of strangled animals.  And do not eat blood.  These four things would be stumbling blocks to forming community.  How many times do we make rules that divide and do not enhance unity?

         If we were asked today what the bottom line is for us in worship, what would we say?  Perhaps reflect on what you truly appreciate about your worship experience.  Is it “tradition” for is it core to your faith beliefs?  Lord, give us wisdom to discern what the real issues are when we disagree.  Help us to see your hand working to bring people to you.  Thank you for the forgiveness you have given me for my mistakes and for those who have been patient with me as I have grown in faith.  Blessings!


“Nonsense” or Disinformation

April 21, 2022

Luke 24: 9-11

Disinformation can be defined as “false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.”

The women go to the tomb early Easter morning to anoint the body of Jesus whom they saw brutally crucified right before them.  They are grieving.  At the tomb, they find the stone rolled away, the body gone, and two “angels” who said that Jesus had risen. They were in shock.  The women returned to the others and reported.  “Nonsense” or disinformation from hysterical  women?

When they came back from the tomb,

they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 

10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 1

But they did not believe the women,

because their words seemed to them like nonsense.

We have here several women returning from the tomb, reporting that the body is missing or risen.  The others of their group though, did not believe them for they were women, unreliable witnesses!  It sounded like nonsense.    

         The word “disinformation” makes us think  of Jan. 6 and our present cultural battle over what happened at the event and who is to blame.  Both explanations of the happenings are accusing the other versions or explanation of the event as disinformation.  Why?  Is it because they do not believe they are reliable witnesses?  I am not taking sides here but I am pointing out that the dynamic of the Biblical story is not unique.  Matthew 28 goes further to say that at the same time as the women return to the apostles and are not believed, the guards sent to guard the tomb are returning to Jerusalem and reporting to the chief priests what happened.  Matthew says they were paid “a large sum of money” to spread the story that the disciples had come in the night and stolen the body.  Oh my, stories are flying and who is telling the truth?

     It feels awfully similar to “disinformation” claims being thrown around today.  The women, the guards, and the apostles are deliberate in their stories and are trying to convince others of their version of reality.  There is a public explanation of a public event that is being fought over.  I see two elements in the Jan 6 and the resurrection story: the credibility of the event and the credibility of the reporters.  Peter and John immediately leave to check out a story that sounds like nonsense.

     Perhaps you are a “believer” in the resurrection for you have 2000 years of religious history to confirm your belief.  Perhaps you are a “believer” because you too have had an encounter with the divine.  Who you believe and what you believe is crucial to the values that guide your life.  May we pray today to be a believable witness to our faith and not sound like nonsense to others!  Blessings as you share.


“Were You There”

April 16, 2022

Saturday we sit in silence.  We know Sunday is coming with its surprises but the people at the time of the crucifixion did not.  They looked out on a world that they thought was going to be rescued from Roman domination by this promising Messiah.  But he didn’t.  Perhaps some of us can sit and understand that feeling as we look at our world where to our horror people are being killed in Ukraine, in Uganda and in other places.  Innocent children and women are caught in some leader’s fight for power.  No power seems able to stop the killing.  Some of us sit by the bedside of a loved one who was not healed by Jesus…but we know he could have.  Some of us look out on a world that can be so beautiful…but isn’t because of global warming, pollution, and trash.  And for some the ramifications of a failed marriage, a failed business enterprise, or a bad investment leave us wondering how we will face tomorrow.  There are times when we cry out, “I believe, help my unbelief!”

     The African American spiritual first published in 1899 by an unknown author is beloved because it captures this feeling, the deep grief of loss and more.  Let us bow our heads, listen, and pray.  Blessing.


“Poor Wayfaring Stranger”

January 15, 2022

This week we reflected on being strangers in this world.  Peter in his first letter called his readers who are spread over five Roman provinces, “exiles.”  He blesses them with “grace and peace in abundance.”  He then gives them advice for dealing with times of struggle, times of isolation, and times when life seems to be going on that slippery slide down.  It made me think of the song “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” sung by Johnny Cash, Burl Ives, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and others.

         This American folk song was first known to be published in 1868 by an unknown writer.  Some think it was based on an 1816 German hymn.  The song was known during the Civil War and after as the Libby Prison Hymn named for a dying union soldier who scratched it on a Confederate prison wall in Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia.  The lyrics are the wail of a weary soul making his journey and focusing on the rewards of heaven.  It is linked with tough times and trials as were the lives of early Christians.  The version I found on YouTube is done by two Russians and gives a beautiful twist to this soul wrenching cry.  Peter would tells us to not forget we are not unseen but chosen, inheritors of a living hope, people with an eternal inheritance and knowing a God who is an impartial judge not playing politics to gain our approval.  God speaks the truth and he cares.  We can look forward to reunion with our “mama and papa.”


“Go Down Moses”

July 5, 2021

It is difficult to spend a week reflecting on the epic moments in history like the Moses story in the Bible without singing the song, “Go Down Moses.”  This very famous African American spiritual speaks directly to oppression and freedom and God’s goal of liberation.  Many slave owners prohibited singing this song for they understood the Moses story to be speaking against slavery of all kinds.

         “Go down, Moses,” was first heard being sung by “contrabands,” the name given to slaves caught running away and being held at Fort Monroe.  Rev. Lewis Lockwood heard the song and translated it onto sheet music.  It was then published in 1862. The Nile valley was considered lower than Jerusalem so when Moses was told by God to go to Egypt, he had to go down to Egypt.  Many slaves in the underground railroad had to cross rivers and going down the Mississippi was going down into slave country.  From this came the saying, to be “sold down the river.”

         Core to the Christian story is the call to liberation from slavery and specifically liberation from slavery to sin.  Our epic hero, God, is making a nation where people can be free and live their potential.  He will make it happen.  Below are two famous versions of the song for your enjoyment.

Paul Robeson:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtLcELU1brA Louis Armstrong:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vf6jBP4YXwo


The Fork in the Road

July 5, 2021

Exodus 13:17-14:31.  The reader might think that the culmination of the tenth plague would settle all issues for Moses.  Our epic hero, God, has shown himself more powerful than all the gods of Egypt and the people have finally started the journey to the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  Sounds like a good start but the plot thickens.  This fledgling “nation” reaches their first challenge, the Red Sea.  It really doesn’t matter how deep the water was as some like to quibble.  There is a block on the road to happiness.  The wedding is over and it is not uncommon for there to be a major fight that first week of honeymoon as reality sets in.  The operation is over and cancer removed by physical therapy begins and it hurts.

          As the people reach the Red Sea, Pharaoh again reverses his decision and sends his army after the Israelites.  There is an army bearing down on the people from one side and a “sea” to cross on the other.  Sweaty palms.  What will Moses do as this is a new type of challenge to his leadership and in-front of the “nation” God has entrusted him to lead?  Leadership decisions need to be made and the people are close to mutiny.  Families go through this often.  Sunday morning and the kids aren’t so happy about going to church.  Or perhaps it is a decision to move for a parent’s job but the kids are not so convinced leaving their friends and the familiar is the way to go.  It is at these crisis moments that leaders have to reach within themselves and grow.  Dictatorial mandates may calm the storm momentarily but it is probably fomenting under the surface. 

         All the formation that God has been investing in Moses now shows as Moses declares, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.  The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.  The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. (Ex. 14:13.14)”  Moses reaches within himself and realizes that the God who did the miracles of the plagues, probably has another miracle up his sleeve.  We call that faith.  Based on our past experience with God, we trust that what is to unfold is within his ability to handle.  It is one thing to know about the Bible but it is another thing to put the principles into action – to refuse to cheat, to turn the other cheek, to forgive, to leave a job that requires unethical actions from you.  Stepping out in faith, defines Moses as the leader.  Standing in faith is a defining moment.

         So where is the challenge facing you today?  We might call it our “growing edge.”  If we have no challenges then perhaps we need to rethink our priorities.  I note Moses does not look to his abilities but he is encouraging people to look at how God is going to solve the problem.  The answer is not what he might plan as we would never have imagined parting of the sea!  Often the answer comes in unexpected ways but we know God is watching and is able.  He is there with us in our challenge today and he has a better way forward than we can imagine.  Are we looking to him?


Passover — Communion

July 5, 2021

Exodus 12:1-42.  Jews all over the world celebrate Passover every year and Christians celebrate communion frequently.  Both of these deeply symbolic rituals are grounded in the celebration at the end of the tenth plague.  Moses has continually confronted Pharaoh of Egypt with God’s message, “Let my people go!”  Pharaoh agrees and then relents nine times.  Each time God is revealed more powerful than Pharaoh or his magicians or his officials.  To prepare for the night of the tenth plague the Israelites are given extensive instructions about choosing, caring for, slaughtering, and eating a goat whose blood is to be smeared on their doorposts.  The angel of death will pass over any home marked with the blood of the lamb.  Hence this ceremony is called Passover. After the tenth plague, Pharaoh grants the Israelites their freedom.   It marks the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  This story is foundational to the identity of the Israelites and is remembered and retold throughout the Bible.  What is the big deal?

         Oppression of God’s creation and idolatry that denies God’s authority will not be tolerated forever.  The Pharaoh thought he was god and the people worshipped idols.  Control over life and death was the final word, settling where real power lies, who is the real God.  Pharaoh finally submits and allows the people to go worship the real God.  Secondly God has now created a ritual that reminds us who we are and what God wants from us.  Christians believe the blood of the doorpost foreshadowed the blood of Jesus on the cross.  We believe we may live under the penalty of death but death cannot cause us to perish.  Communion is the ritual we celebrate that remembers Jesus, the lamb of God, being sacrificed for our sins so we will live eternally.  Our epic hero, God, has a plan to create a nation to bless all nations and here at Passover those people are beginning to emerge.  They still have a long journey ahead to be molded but so do we.

         We would like to think we do not have idols today but there are many things that are so very important to us – health, wealth, and prestige.  We will sacrifice to secure a future for ourselves and our children.  Perhaps we need to ponder for a moment if there is anything we are holding on to too tightly.  I think we call it, “Put first things first.”  Do we need to get our priorities right?  Secondly, rituals are things we do to enact our beliefs.  Do you have rituals you do regularly that teach your family and remind them who they are and what God expects of them.  Communion is one of them but family prayer is another.  Bedtime prayers and songs settle us down and put us in a good frame of mind as we go to sleep.  Some people have special “sacred” places where they go to sort out their thinking and pray and journal.  Idolatry needs to be nipped in the bud and rituals need to be nourished.  Blessings as you journey.


Be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet!

July 5, 2021

Exodus 6:28-11:10 has been made into multiple movies telling of the encounters between Pharaoh and Moses, the kingdom of this world versus the kingdom of God.  “Let my people go,” takes ten plagues.  If God is God then why not just zap Pharaoh with plague ten, the death of the first-born, and let Moses lead the people to the Promised Land?  It seems that is not the way an epic hero works with fragile humans and with stubborn enemies.  Think, in a good movie there is usually a rescue plan that needs to be planned, executed and occupies a good part of the movie.  Pharaoh was stubborn and thought he was god.  Moses was new to leadership and needed to be formed.  The people did not know the “I AM.”  When we say “I do” at the altar or before the adoption judge, that is only a declaration of relationship but it is not the stuff that makes up relationship as we live into the reality.

         As the plagues unfold, God defeats the gods of Egypt and ultimately shows himself as a real God and not Pharaoh.  The Egyptians and the Hebrews witness and are immersed in the unfolding drama.  The God who created the heavens and the earth that daily testify to his presence now takes on new dimensions.  Moses speaks for him predicting the plagues and punishment of rejection of him.  God is not just far away in the heavens but is involved in “good government” of his creation.  God’s desire is liberation of his people to live in a “promised land” where they can freely worship under his guidelines that will be revealed. But God does not just zap us and make it happen.  Growth is a process.

         Why?  God is revealing his character and God is forming people.  So how does that apply to my life today?  Relationships cannot be forced or dictated.  The song goes “if I had never had trials, I’d never know what God can do.”  It doesn’t make the troubles we go through fun or easy nor does it mean we have done something wrong.  The Hebrews were not being punished for sins but were participants in an unfolding epic story that will be told for generations to come.  I am challenged to ponder my story that will pass down to others.  Perhaps the challenge today is to know the “I AM” better and to look for his hand working in our world.  Perhaps the challenge is to reflect on how my story is forming.  In either case, we are in the hands of a God who is working with the world around us and the powers that oppress us and he is working to form us into our best selves.  Whew.  Thank you.