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Costly Deliverance

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire--with the head, legs, and internal organs. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord's Passover. On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord--a lasting ordinance. Exodus 12:1-14 Read the whole chapter.

Last Sunday we started in Exodus chapter 3 and looked a little bit at that call story of Moses with the burning bush and God saying, 'Moses, I've got a job for you to do. My people are in captivity. The Egyptians are being harsh and it's time for this to end. So I need you to go and be the one to work alongside of me to make that happen.' Our reading this morning, we've kind of fast-forwarded through a number of chapters but there's a lot of things that happen. We've got those 10 plagues that are brought upon the people of Egypt. Those 10 plagues in which God did things like turn the skies dark, turn the Nile into blood, to bring plagues of locusts and flies and frogs and other pestilences upon the people, boils and sickness. All of these were a battle of wills between God and Pharaoh. Pharaoh who considered himself a god and the God of the Israelites through Moses and his brother Aaron continued to deliver these messages to Pharaoh, 'Pharaoh, let my people go.' And Pharaoh hard-hearted Pharaoh kept saying no. So another plague would unfold. The people of Egypt paid the price. Pharoah stood firm in his convictions but God stood firmer in his desire and intention to lead his people to their freedom.

We come to this 12th chapter which in some ways almost seems like an interruption in the sequence of events that's been going on moving from one plague to the next. While it probably according to scholars took a period of months for these things to happen and unfold, we're going from Moses and Aaron saying, 'God says let my people go' and Pharaoh says 'no', a plague happens and the next and the next and the next. And they just keep coming. Then we get to chapter 12 and we have this institution of a ritual, a liturgy, it says 'alright there's one more plague coming and you need to get ready to celebrate it and do it in a way in which I prescribe. It's not like how the others have unfolded.' Now in the past in those first nine, Moses and Aaron would go make God's demands to Pharaoh. Pharaoh would say 'no' and then Moses and Aaron would say or do something that would cause these things to happen.

Now it wasn't because they had any power or ability of their own but rather God was working in and through them. But God's approach now is a little bit different. God speaks to Moses and Aaron and says, 'I've got a message for you to give to the people. Here's what they need to do to be ready,' But at that point, Moses and Aaron are told to kind of step back and let God take over from here. So what is it about this ritual, this meal, this way in which the people are called to celebrate, or remember? I think the biggest part of it is just that because honestly, myself included, I think probably for many of you this is not an easy text.

A former associate of mine use to say, when we get to passages like this, when we often read our scripture and then at the end of it, the person reading says "The word of God for the people of God" and everybody responds by saying "Thanks be to God". My associate Curtis would say, you know we get to these passages, we read them and we say "Thanks be to God" really that thanks be to God should have a question mark after it. Because this is a tough passage. It's a difficult one. We wrestle to make sense of it because it's bloody, it's violent, it's God ultimately putting to death all of the firstborns of Egypt. And it makes us step back and say, 'wait a minute, is this the God that we've heard about? Is this the God that we worship? Is this the God that we're called to love?' And yet we see history unfolding in the way that it did in the land of Egypt. Moses and Aaron when they were responsible for those other plagues are not told 'alright now get all of the people together and take up arms and go and slaughter the firstborns of Egypt.' God says 'I'll pass over the land and I'll make this happen.' Because it was going to take something drastic to get through to Pharaoh. And it did. Pharaoh relented. In fact later on, after the reading we had, it says that Pharaoh and all of the Egyptians leaders and officials, when the spirit of the Lord, the angel of death, whatever it was that passed over the land and these firstborns died it affected every household of the Egyptians, their livestock, their children. It cost them dearly. But that was the tipping point because it was at that point that Pharaoh devastated, overwhelmed, realizing that he was no god and in fact all of these gods of Egypt had no power to save them throws up his hand and says, 'go, take your people, go worship your god. And while you're at it, ask your god to bless me.'