The Exodus [Exodus 12]
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The Exodus 10.23.2022
One of the things I haven’t talked about all that much in my time as your pastor is my heritage. My family is, like, SUUUPER German. On my dad’s side of the family, our last name is very german, Mannschreck – and of course I was always told growing up if you wanted to be more authentic you have to say it like you’re gargling rocks. Mannschreck. The word SCHRECK apparently means Fear, and Mann is just Man – so our name either means “man who is afraid” or “man who is feared” – I’m still not sure which is actually the better option. On my mom’s side of the family, I’m a third generation immigrant, like my actual grandma comes from the old country. But here’s the thing, growing up we had this rich German history, but nobody ever told me it was German. Like, there were things in my life that were very German, but I didn’t know that it was a German. Here’s an example, growing up – my mom’s mom, her name was Oma. I thought that was her actual name. I didn’t know that Oma was the German word for grandma. I literally thought it was just her name. Oma means grandma. I was like a teenager before I found out the connection. I remember one time at Christmas she brought us some chocolate. Oma brought chocolate from her visit to Germany, and I remember as a little kid, I said, “No, Oma, this chocolate is gross – I want that Hershey bar over there.” And I remember her being so offended and angry, and I was baffled. Oma, what is the big deal – it’s candy. That Hershey candy bar is bigger, and that one is too rich (it was dark chocolate). But my Oma, she tried to explain to me – that Hershey stuff is garbage, you don’t know what good chocolate is, you come from a world of good chocolates. Now, as an adult, I still love that plastic garbage chocolate that Hershey spits out – because I’m an American, but I understand that there’s a whole world of rich, German chocolates that is incredible.
Our heritage is part of our story, and one thing I regret from my childhood is that I didn’t ask more questions. We would do this thing when I was a kid during Christmas – where we would put our shoes outside of our bedroom door during the Christmas season and we would wake up and there would be a little chocolate inside our shoes. It’s a german tradition! Like an advent calendar, like the 12 days of Christmas but stinkier. And little 6 year old JJ, I never asked why – I was just stoked that there was candy in my shoes. Like, did I ever wonder why there was candy in my shoes? What’s the story what’s the connection to my past? Nope – wrappers already on the floor, chocolates in my cheek and that’s why you don’t let kids go trick or treating unsupervised. Our heritage and our history is part of our story and I think we do our children a disservice when we tell them, “that’s just how we do things.” There is a story behind just about every cultural and family tradition – and we’ve lost the curiosity about our past, and if we lose that then we lose the “why” of the tradition. And then eventually, if we can’t remember why we do it, we lose the tradition.
I used to wonder – why this german heritage thing such a big deal for my Oma? I mean, my dad’s side of the family is super German too, but they don’t make such a big deal about it. We’re American, we’re not German. Have you seen the movies? Germans are the bad guys – why would you want to hang onto that connection? Why do you make a big deal about chocolate and using the German language? But then I heard my grandma’s story, and it all made a little bit more sense. My great-grandparents were missionaries from Germany to China. My grandmother was actually born in China. Nationality-wise, she’s what they used to call “white Chinese.” But when things got bad during world war II, China got real hostile to Christians. And my oma and her sister – they were just little girls, they got separated from their parents. My great-grandparents got on a boat in China and they fled to the safety of America, but the little girls got on a boat that went back to Germany. My grandmother grew up in an orphanage in Germany during World War II with her parents in America. Eventually they fled the orphanage and went out to the countryside, living on farms, filling in and doing the manual labor left by the men who went to war. After the war was over, she and her sister reunited with her parents at Ellis Island in New York, and they began their life here. And even now, I only know the broadstrokes of the story. I wish I had been more curious, asked more questions – sought the why behind all the goofy family traditions.
The same thing happens in church life too. We come into this place, we have all these traditions – decorations, worship formats, traditional prayers, sabbath, Christian Education, tithing and offerings, volunteering – and for so many of us we do it because that’s what we’ve always done. And that’s what we told our children. And we forgot “why” we do all these religious traditions, and if we forget the why – eventually we lose the tradition itself. If you want to know why so many young people aren’t in church anymore – I think part of it is just because they don’t get it. They don’t understand the why, so they don’t hang on to the tradition. And actually, we see the same thing in our scripture lesson for today – let’s take a look.
Chapter twelve in the book of Exodus, now if you were here last week, we already covered the verse 13 verses, explaining the sacrifice and the passing over. God has freed his people from slavery. And we start out in verse 14. [read v.14-16]. This is a tradition called the “Festival of Unleavened Bread” and it’s a week long party and you’re not allowed to do any work, except to prepare food – which, that’s my kind of festival. I love that. Just eating food all week. Sacred assembly on day one and again on day seven, but in between is just this big party of hanging out eating food. Oh yeah, and there’s no yeast. There’s no bread. Everything has to be unleavened, everything has to be without yeast. They even go so far as to take all the yeast out of the house before this big party. [read v.21-24]. This is what we talked about last week, the blood on the doorpost is a recognition that the wages of sin is death, judgment will pass over that house. But listen to this next part, [read v.25-27]. When your children ask, “what does this ceremony mean to you?” And then it tells them what to say. It’s the Passover sacrifice because the lord’s judgment passed over us. I imagine this Jewish tradition, and it’s grandparents and great-grandparents who get a kid, they’re running around all wild as kids always do during the holidarys, and they grab the kid and put them on the knee and say, “let me tell you this story. You see what your mom’s doing there? She’s got that branch from the hyssop tree and she’s painting that door frame with the blood? Let me tell you a story about why you are free. I guess what I’m seeing in this first chunk of the bible lesson is that parents and grandparents have a responsibility to tell the stories that come behind our traditions so that our children will understand the why. Over the last few generations in modern America we have lost the power of the traditions, because we have lost the WHY, we have lost the stories that come behind those traditions.
Verses 14-28 give us the traditions, and before and after is the story where those traditions come from. And it kind of comes over and over and in waves, they mention what happened and why like three or four times because they really want to make sure we get it. The two traditions are blood on the doorposts and unleavened bread. Blood on the doorpost is super obvious – judgment passes over. But as for the unleavened bread - after the tenth plague comes in, and Pharaoh’s done – he says, “get out” – we pick it up in verse 33 where it says, [read v.33-34]. The reason this is called the Festival of the Unleavened Bread is because they didn’t have time to let the bread rise. The Egyptians were so freaked out that they drove the Israelites out of the land. Here take my gold, take my silver, take some clothing – just please get out of our country because we don’t all want to die. Israel barely had time to get their coats on and grab this dough that’s not ready, it’s not risen. It’s unleavened. So that’s what they eat. At the beginning of the chapter, verse 11 actually goes more in depth. He’s like, here’s the set up, [read v.11]. Like can you imagine the kid’s questions about this tradition? Mom, why do I have to eat with my shoes on and why do I have to eat really quickly? Well Susie, the answer is because in the story – in your history, in our heritage the situation was really dire. God told us - Pack your bags ahead of time, we’re going to eat this meal fast – bread doesn’t even have time to rise, and then we gotta get to stepping.
Verse 40, [read v.40-42]. Can you imagine the night freedom came to the Israelites? We hold this festival celebration – we eat the strange meal, in a strange way, we paint the door with blood, and then they hold a vigil. In my mind, you can’t have a vigil without candles. I just imagine the families sitting around, holding their candles in the dark – reflecting on that first journey out of Egypt. Their oppression was over, their people were finally free. The thing in our scripture that really captured my attention this past week was the idea of the children asking the question – why do we do this? – because it’s so obviously important to pass on those traditions. But I was reading some scholars and there are some who take this whole story as a metaphor for our lives. Like, great traditions don’t just point us backwards, but they also apply to and change our lives right now. They affect our future.
With this story, the exodus of Israel, if Egypt and Pharaoh represent oppression and all forms of evil and abuse – and that’s absolutely what Egypt represents. In this grand story where Egypt represents evil – the message of the story of unleavened bread is that we need to get away from evil in our lives as quickly as possible. One of my commentaries said, and this is a quote, “When the community of faith no longer has this “festival of urgent departure” [like, if they forget about the unleavened part, the we need to do this quickly, we need to get out of here part] it runs the risk of being excessively and in unseemly ways at home in the empire.” If we don’t teach our children that when they are living in the land of sin and evil that we need to get out of there as quickly as possible, if we don’t teach them that – then we might end up letting them get a little too comfortable with that evil. We are not supposed to be comfortable in Egypt. We are not supposed to be comfortable with oppression and darkness and evil. We need our traveling shoes on, we run away from those things. We don’t want to stay, we don’t want to get comfortable in that land. We are not children of the land of Egypt – the place that enslaves people for hundreds of years and slaughters generations out of fear and with intent to suppress. We are children of the marked doorposts. We are children of the hurried bread. And we will follow God to freedom. It’s not just a tradition, a story from back then – it’s a method and a means to everyday life right now.
Do you have sin in your life? Something you know you’re not supposed to be doing? And you were going to run away from it – but then you decided to let it hang out for a little bit. And you got a little more comfortable in the empire. A little more comfortable living in the land of Egypt? The message of the Passover celebration is not just that through Jesus the judgment has passed over you, but also that you gotta get out of there. If there is evil in your world, you need to drop everything and get out of there! Don’t wait for the bread to get done rising – follow God to freedom away from the sin in your life right now. Set your eyes on the horizon, repent from your evil and never look back. Leave that darkness behind you in the land of oppression, because you are following the true God of Israel out of the slavery and into the light.
You see, the good news coming to us from the text this morning is that God reveals himself in all the pieces of worship. Practically every single thing you see around you is for a reason. The cross. The table. The candles. The stained glass windows – there’s whole stories inside those windows. The music – you open up that hymnal to any page and there’s a teaching about God on that page. And it’s not just the church building, everything in your faith walk is a tradition that has a story behind it, a reason we do it that teaches us and helps us and guides us. We have constructed our entire religious expression out of a pile of narratives that help us understand that thing that is out there and how much he loves you. But when you take the traditions, and you forget the stories..when you don’t have the curiosity to ask, “grandma, why do we do this thing?” – the traditions become hollow. And then the criticisms start. You know those religious people, all that religious hokum is just about control, they just want to control people. Or it’s all about money – they just want your money and they want to control you in the church. Or it’s all about their hatreds, they just want to hate people, and they use religion to justify their hatred. And yeah – if you’re dealing with empty traditions, if you’ve gutted the traditions, you’ve forgotten the narratives, you’ve forgotten the story the reasons we do things – you can take the hollow tradition and just have it mean whatever you want. I think there are churches and there are traditions that are just about control and hatred and money. And I think the bad examples hit the headlines far more than the authentic, real churches.
But here’s the thing – if God reveals himself in all the pieces of worship, we can create something new. By reclaiming the stories behind our traditions – we can create something authentic – a true church pursuing God in all of our worship. There are so many people out there are so freaked out by the church. They have heard every possible explanation and story about the church – except for the real thing. There was a little kid in the neighborhood, couple summers ago. And I was setting up the Youth Group’s portable gaga pit. And some of the kids wanted to come and play the game. I had a little time, we played some Gaga ball, and then I invited them to church. I said, “you know, you guys are always playing in our parking lot – our church is super close to your house, if you ever wanted to come visit, we have a really great time on Sunday mornings. Do you know what that little kid said to me? He said, “wait, is it free? Can we actually go inside the building?” Yes! Of course you can go inside that building! You are always welcome in the house of the Lord.
You know what I’ve found is the biggest difference between the big, growing, mega churches and the little tiny churches? It’s not theology or worship style or even how cool the building looks. Growing churches tend to be the ones that can explain things simply. They know why they do what they do and they explain it to new people. Filling in the stories opens up traditions for new people to meet God – because God reveals himself in worship. And so what we learn is that it's our responsibility not just to do the stuff, but to understand why. Tell the stories and reclaim the why – it’s the greatest method for ensuring it will endure as a tradition.
So the challenge for us today, the way we can apply this to our lives is that First – we need to learn the stories. Reclaim the curiosity of your faith – Grandma, why do we do it that way? There’s always a reason, there’s always a story. And if all you know is, “well, we’ve always done it that way.” Go ask somebody else. Keep searching. Find the real reason that we do what we do. Reclaim curiosity in your faith journey, learn the stories of our walk with God. Learn the stories and then tell the stories. The younger generation is losing their curiosity, because for so long all they ever heard was, “stop asking, that’s just how we do it.” I think about the church historian, Jim, who we heard from last week. 180 years. The stories that can be told, not just the faith tradition, but this specific church. These people, we are part of the story. The United Women of Faith – why are there pillows all over the place? That’s just how we do it? No! There’s incredible stories behind the traditions, things we should be proud of – things we need to learn and then tell to other people. Learn the stories, tell the stories.
The second challenge I’ve got for you today is a little less general. It’s not about our entire faith tradition, it’s just this one story in front of us today. My second challenge for you today is, “hurry up and get out of Egypt.” If you’re living in the land of sin, the land of oppression, the land of darkness – get out of there. Don’t wait for the bread to rise, you wrap that up in your clothes, you put it on your shoulders and you get out of there. Hurry up and get out of Egypt – freedom is waiting for you.
Growing up in a very German household, I missed out on some things because I lacked the curiosity to ask the basic question every kid is supposed to ask, “Grandma, why do we do this?” Is “Oma” your real name? Why is there chocolate in my shoes? But if we reclaim the stories of our past, our traditions become more than a hollow shell – and it becomes easier to share it with the world. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you reclaim your curiosity for our faith. Ask the question, “Grandma, why do we do this?” May you learn the stories of your walk with God, learn the stories and then tell them to everyone around you. And if at any point in those stories you find yourself in Egypt – hurry up and get out. Amen.