Sunday, August 21, 2011

Moses and the Northwoods Park

Mt. Katahdin, Maine
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Next Sunday will be my last one at  two lovely churches, one in the shadow of Mt. Katahdin and the other near the lovely Lincoln Lakes. I have decided that with everything else going on in my life, I do not, physically or emotionally, have the strength to do this for a year. The bishop supports me in this.

Last Thursday I attended a somewhat contentious meeting at the local high school. Proponents and opponents of a feasibility study for a Northern Woods National Park met with Secretary of the interior Salazar. He was a generous listener and I hope opened up some hearts to listen to the possibility and to decide on information rather than fear and emotion.


What a difficult time it was for the descendants of Joseph and his family when there was a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph. They had really grown in numbers and were probably viewed as a threat to the Egyptians. What if, they became so numerous they would took over the place? Not something any self-respecting dictator would put up with. So they were put to work as slaves making bricks for Pharaoh's projects.

That didn't stop the Israelites from finding ways around this oppressive system. When Moses was born, his mother had him hidden in the reeds of the Nile near where Pharaoh's daughter bathed and had his sister watch the whole scene so she could recommend a wet-nurse, who was really Mose's mother. Moses was fortunate enough to be raised in Pharaoh's household. God was watching over his people, silently providing for a leader.

Watching the evening news about the struggle the Libyans and Syrians are having trying to overthrow their dictators can't help but make me think of Moses and the Israelites. And then this past spring we watched as Egyptians freed themselves from their dictator. It is no longer a group of strangers kept captive in a foreign land struggling to be free, but people native to a country oppressed by their own brutal leaders. There is something in the human spirit that yearns to be free. My home state tells it well: "Live Free or Die." Now I know some wags say that slogan is a threat, but there is something about not being free that can kill bits of your soul.

I wonder what it is like to overcome the fear of being beaten or killed or having your family members put at risk to fight for freedom. Fear is a powerful emotion--one of our most basic and primitive ones. It gets the adrenalin going so we can fight or flee. I think I am the type who would flee, but I don't really know. When we are fearful, or have any other powerful negative emotion all we seem to be able to do is act instinctively: creative solutions go out the window.

I remember telling a fractious Vestry some years ago, that I was going to show episodes of The Vicar of Dibley (a British comedy) to them for the first half hour of our meetings so they could do problem solving instead of bickering.

God must have given the Israelites a sense of humor so they could come up with creative solutions to Pharaoh's edicts. Like the midwives saying the women were so healthy they gave birth before the midwives arrived.

I was thinking of the need for a sense of humor at the meeting on the Northwoods Park last Thursday. I know there is a lot of fear in the town over the mill closing and the lack of good paying jobs, or jobs of any kind. An unemployment rate of over 20% is frightening. I wonder if that fear is keeping some people from being able to look at possibilities other than a mill. In situations like this, it is hard to view any change as having the potential to be positive. And I know there is a lot of history that complicates matters.

If we look a bit forward into Moses' story after he gets Pharaoh to "let my people go"--what happens--they complain bitterly that things were better in Egypt. God had a plan for these stiff-necked people, but it was in the future and neither Moses, nor that first generation would get to see the promised land. That is a bit like doing interim ministry, you can lead people for a bit, but the future is in their hands. Someone else will lead them into the future with God's help. We never do any of this alone.

Our Epistle this morning tells us "For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function,so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness." What a great image of a church or any community of people!

Each one of you has a special gift that this church and this community needs to form a strong body. Each one of you is different and special in the eyes of God, and, I hope, in the eyes of each other. Imagine the power of a smile to a stranger. Imagine the power of a hand of friendship to someone who has no family or whose family is far away. Imagine the power of a gentle sense of humor when there is a tense situation. Imagine the strength of shared experiences to build bonds between people. Imagine the satisfaction of guiding someone else's child find the security that comes in learning that God is love. Imagine the gratefulness of finding other people who share your love of this church and this area and joining with them to serve.

In Matthew, this morning, we hear Jesus say to his disciples, "But who do you say that I am?" And "Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven."

If we believe that Jesus is the anointed one of God -- the one sent to show us the way, then like the Israelites of old, we may grumble and complain, but as long as we keep struggling to break free from whatever bonds keep us as slaves to our Pharaohs, God will be there. As the psalmist tells us: "Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth."