Wednesday, February 10, 2016

That Whole Generation

That Whole Generation from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Luke 4:1-13
1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he ws famished. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live be bread alone.’”

5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”

9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God. 

Exodus 1:1-13
1These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: 2Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, 3Issachar, Zebulon, and Benjamin, 4Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. 5The total number of people born to Jacob was seventy. 6Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation. 7But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.

8Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and , in the even of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Tonight, we’re taking a step back.

We’re stepping back into the history of our faith so that we can retrace the path of our theological ancestors. Tonight, we’re taking a step back.

We’re stepping back into a story that is familiar to us, lifted up in films like The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt. We’re stepping back into a story that we have told and retold in Sunday School classes and in Vacation Bible School activities. We’re stepping back into a story that fed the Civil Rights movement and shaped the political discourse of a generation. We’re stepping back into the Exodus from Egypt.

Each Sunday through the series of Lent, we’ll move through this familiar and beloved story, until we arrive at holy week, expecting our liberation from bondage, first to Pharaoh, then from sin and death. Each Tuesday at Lenten Lunch we’ll study and unpack more of the story, finding our place in it, and remembering the power that God exerts on behalf of his covenant people.

And as we embark on our Lenten journey together, we know that the story starts somewhere.

“These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulon, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher.”

It’s interesting to note that this book has two different names. English translations use “Exodus,” which means “the road out.” But in the Jewish tradition, the second book of the Bible is known as “The Book of Names” because of this census-like beginning. The author of Exodus wants us know, right away, that the beginning of this book picks up a story that had already started.

We join the family of Israel who came to Egypt seeking food in a time of famine, who were invited by a brother they thought they had killed. But that generation doesn’t last forever. The family of Jacob is already large, grown to seventy people in one generation. Of course when you have thirteen children with four different women it’s not difficult to get to a big family.

But despite their size, or the importance of their household, or the order of their birth, or how much Jacob loved their respective mothers, all of them are named in a level refrain of the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob. These are ordinary human beings, these sons and their families. Unlike the immortal heroes of mythology, these people with whom we have built relationship over most of Genesis do not make it very far past the start of this story.

Verse six: “Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation.”

A great deal of time passes over the course of the Exodus story, and we lose some major characters along the way. But that’s part of the human condition. We have a history of those who have gone before, and as Christians, we know that there is an end in sight.

We also know that’s not bad news. That’s part of why our assurance of pardon changes during the season of lent. The pitcher honors our history, and our baptism remembers who we are now, claimed by God in a covenant of faith, hope, and love. The words we speak look to the future, knowing that death was not the end of Christ’s story, and it’s not the end of ours.

We will leave this worship service with out faces visibly changed by our faith. It’s not going to be a shining transfiguration like we read about on Sunday. Our faces, when we leave, will not radiate from an encounter with the glory of God. We will walk out into a cold, winter night with our faces smudged with our own humanity. The ashes on our foreheads and on our hands will tell the world that we recognize that eternity belongs to the LORD alone, and we are creatures who share this stage for a time.

The Ashes this Wednesday level us all out. The elderly and the children, the influential and the disruptive, the comfortable and the afflicted, will be reminded that they are dust, and to dust they will return. Like the sons of Israel who went down to Egypt with Jacob, we are all marked equally by our humanity. These ashes remind us that no matter how great or small, wise or foolish, we will join that whole generation which has already returned to dust.

But we also remember, as we are anointed with ashes, that our baptism promises us a future that is stronger than Pharaoh…

Tonight, we’re taking a step back.

We’re stepping back for some perspective. We’re stepping back to remember that the author of all creation holds our beginning, and holds our end as well. We’re stepping back to remember that our brokenness has an end that is already written, even though we are still spelling it out.

Tonight, we’re taking a step back into the season of Lent, knowing that our story leads to the wilderness, and to the cross, but that its ending is written in the promised land, and in the empty tomb.

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