Link to file of me narrating the document (can take some time to load)
The way the name of Egypt’s river becomes a play-word creates a ‘chucklable’ or safe way to introduce the danger of collective denial as an obstacle which needs to be overcome. It cannot be overcome without God’s help, or the spiritual ‘work’ of trust and faith.
To give the people of the congregation a biblical story to relate to as we journeyed through the transition process we started looking at the book of Exodus in our morning services. We began this after Easter, as the time from New Years to Easter was still a time of listening to the stories of the past and acknowledging loss until we were reminded that sin and death have been defeated and the grave has no teeth.
The first thing that became apparent in looking at Exodus is that the clan of Israel came to Egypt for a good thing: to be saved from famine and reunited by God working through a brother they had scorned. The problem was that they stayed put. Over a few centuries, they got stuck, forgot their way ‘home,’ lost any kind of honorary status tied to Joseph and became slaves.
At that point the congregation was asked to reflect on how many things they had in life that had come to them as ‘good things’ but were now nearly enslaved by. Then they were asked “how about in church?” does that not happen there too? A new hymnal was used as a ‘safe’ example for the congregation. You get a new hymnal, and are excited to learn the new songs and to see some favourites are in there, and over decades you become very attached to that hymnal (or music style), so that you come to a point where you are talking like you will die and be buried with that hymnal in your clutches. You have become enslaved to whatever it is, and you have become unable to receive something new and refreshing as a gift from God. So the question “what has come into the church as a good thing at the time, but is really enslaving us now?” is a worthwhile question that arises out of the biblical narrative.
At various times in messages and articles hints are given as to other originally good things which might be functioning in an enslaving way: A building; a location; pews; an instrument; a choir; special music, trying to relive a great worship moment from the past by repeatedly attempting to recreate it in worship; duty; keeping a particular program or ministry going because it once was so good; etc etc. All were good at some point. Some have us trapped now. So too, Israel had come to Egypt to be saved from famine, had flourished as a family because they lived in harmony with God’s creation forces, and yet became trapped. Stuck. Slaves who saw no way out, no options but to keep grinding along. In that grind, they could not worship God well.
They are either unable or unwilling to see the problem or a way out. They do not have the luxury of ‘free time’ to begin to dream of leaving. They have “battered nation syndrome” you could say, but they are also in a form of collective denial. Collective denial complains and cries out about current circumstances and moans longingly about the “good old days” but it takes no action to look for a different way through today. Moses is given the luxury of seeing a different way, and yet, when he tries to lead toward justice and freedom the first time, his leadership is over-exuberant and he kills and destroys and garners no respect from his people. He flees. To the wilderness. Where he spends the standard biblical time period tied to the number 40 in testing and maturation. Then God comes and introduces himself by his main name and says “Now, with my help, you can lead.”
The plague battle ensues. It has relevant themes as well, but I will jump to the post-passover loot-laden expulsion, and the time right after crossing through the (presumed impossible) water barrier. A congregation in the transition from feeling trapped will suffer a kind of shock to find themselves in free circumstances. Israel repeatedly shows suspicion and disgruntlement. God repeatedly shows long-suffering in the face of their grumbling. They are literally walking in a particular kind of lack of faith called denial. That denial shows a stunning forgetfulness, at least from our perspectives as Christ-knowing readers. The reader constantly has opportunity to wonder “How can they grumble like that just days after Pharaoh is decisively wiped out?” But they do. Again and again. When the 12 spies return from exploring, there is a near mutiny. The closest Israel comes to a shining moment is when God begins to enter into covenant with his freed people, and he asks if they will heed his words, and they willingly say they will. But one of their darkest moments follows that immediately. All of this, the time that became 40 years of wandering, shows that transitioning from slavery to a demi-god (and to helpless, trapped victimhood) to free, loving, bounded obedience and willing worship of the God that truly saved them takes time, and learning, and leading. The denial needs time to break down and be replaced by hopeful faith. Some never make the changeover. The promises need to be sampled to the people and held before them again and again.
And then they get to crossing another river, the one that says “your done” (bad pun intended, read it with a Dutch accent to catch it). And one generation’s denial is left behind. Denial has been crossed.
I did write a generalized fourth page to finish this series. I’m already moving on to new layers of this, so this will have to do.