I enjoy coming to work. I know it sounds strange (maybe a little crazy) but I actually look forward to being here and doing what I do. It is a blessing for which I thank the Lord every day.
But my drive to work is plagued with some gnawing tribulations. No, it is not the long commute. It is not the traffic. Although it has been a cold winter, it is not the weather. It is the street vendor. I will change the singular into a plural category – the street vendors. Today, I drove past four of them.
Let me be clear. My tithe includes gifts beyond the church. Like you, I contribute to causes that share my hope and dreams. I even share a little with the hospital valet parking folks that have had a cold winter in which to park our cars. But the vendors on the street, the ones with the Contributor and others with papers I know nothing about, what about them?
For the most part I pass them by, but I don’t feel good about it. I don’t feel good about looking away from them. I sometime act as if I am absorbed in my own little world and move on as if my agenda is the only important one. It’s an awkward feeling. There is a little touch of feeling judgmental. And sometime there is a little dash of being ashamed of myself.
One part of the lectionary reading for this week didn’t help me. “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5: 42) The Sermon on the Mount often reveals some of my frailties, and these words I read this morning are haunting me. In this case, the Gospel reading is not helping me. It is not soothing my feeling.
But then I remember – my faith pilgrimage is not about me always feeling good. My faith journey is about a relationship with God, and sometime that relationship takes me through some soggy swamps and into situations I haven’t encountered. Living as Christ wants me to live is never easy. The more I want to be faithful, the more complex some situations seem to be.
I don’t have an answer to the dilemma with the ever-beckoning vendors. I have preached a lot of sermons. I have given a lot of pastoral advice. I suppose I should have a ready answer for myself and for those of you that travel the same roads I do, but I don’t. I only know that the Lord and I will be talking about it – about this and a dozen other things I have on my agenda.
Today’s blog post was written by Robert H. Spain. Robert Spain is a retired United Methodist bishop and former chaplain of the United Methodist Publishing House.
Today’s Bible Lesson
by Lee Franklin
This bible lesson originally appeared in the Winter 2015-16 issue of Christian Living in the Mature Years.
Lesson: Exodus 12:1-14
Background: Exodus 12:1-14; Numbers 28:16-25; Mark 14:12-26
Most of us love to commemorate and celebrate special days. We prepare for festivities, gather with family and friends, and participate in the meaningful rituals that mark the significance of the occasion. We take pictures of the ceremony and remember the special day long after it happened. An example is a wedding day. Many of us have framed pictures of our own or our loved ones’ weddings. We look back on that day with fondness, remembering the familiar rituals—walking down the aisle, exchanging rings, toasting the newlyweds, throwing rice, cutting the cake, the newlywed couple’s first dance.
The Passover is an important ritual for Jews, and it plays an important part in our shared traditions. Its meaning and significance is important to us all. Today’s biblical passage takes us to the time when the first Passover was instituted.
The scene in Exodus 12 comes in the context of a contest of power between God and Pharaoh. As we recall from our earlier studies on Genesis, God promised Abram, who would become Abraham, a land and a people (Genesis 17:3-8). True to God’s word, God multiplied God’s people, known as Israel: “The Israelites were fertile and became populous. They multiplied and grew dramatically, filling the whole land” (Exodus 1:7). But this expanded presence of God’s people in Egypt threatened Pharaoh, causing him to oppress, imprison, and even kill those he subjected. God would not have this.
And so the Lord threatened Pharaoh with a series of “plagues,” using such things as frogs, insects, skin diseases, and hail to convince Pharaoh to let God’s people go (chapters 7–10). But Pharaoh resisted God’s assaults and refused to free the Israelites (11:10). And so the event that became known as the first Passover begins. The Lord tells Moses and Aaron that this is so significant that it will be the first month of the year (12:1). The month in which this plague occurs is Nisan, or March–April. On the tenth day of the month, Israel is to take a lamb for each family on Nisan 10 (verse 3). There are specific instructions about how many lambs per household (verses 3-4). Further, there are specific instructions on the kind of lamb—it must be a perfect male (verse 5). The animal had to be watched closely for the next four days. It was to be slaughtered at twilight on that day (Nisan 14) in front of the whole community (verse 6). Significantly, the people are to take some of the blood and put it around the door on the house where they are eating (verse 7). The lamb was to be eaten that night with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. It was important that the people eat the lamb “in a hurry” as it is “the Passover of the Lord” (verse 11).
The meaning of “Passover of the Lord” is selfevident. As the Lord explained to Moses and Aaron, on that night, the Lord would pass through Egypt, killing every firstborn human and animal in the land (verse 12). In this way, God would show his power over and superiority to all (verse 12). But the Lord would “pass over” all houses where there was blood on the door (verse 13). Blood is the sign of life, the life of creation for the people who lived in the marked houses. It was not simply a marker of protection. It was a sign to God’s people not only of God’s power, but also of God’s covenantal promise of a land and a people. The verse states, “The blood will be your sign on the houses where you live” (verse 13). The sign of the blood, the life force, is a sign that God is giving life to God’s people. It was God’s promise that God would not destroy any of Israel’s children or animals on that night of the devastating plague on Egyptians.
This Passover event is very significant, then, as it acknowledges God’s power not only over Pharaoh but over all gods in Egypt. It also represents God’s promise to Israel. It shows that God is actively working out the promise of a land and a people. God wants God’s people to remember and commemorate these acts of power and promise. So Israel is instructed to mark this day as “a day of remembering for you” (verse 14)—a day to be remembered and commemorated throughout time, as many Jewish people do to this day.
In Passover celebrations, then, people celebrate and honor God’s faithfulness to God’s people. They celebrate the deliverance of God’s people from slavery and Pharaoh’s oppressive rule. They celebrate God’s life-giving, loving, liberating actions that are consistent throughout Scripture. The next night after Passover marks the beginning of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (Exodus 34:18; Mark 14:1). This name is given because when Pharaoh freed the Israelites, the story suggests that they had no time to wait for their bread to rise (12:34). That is why Passover celebrations today often include unleavened bread.
An interesting aspect of the Passover ritual established in Exodus 12 is that establishing the ritual happens narratively before the actual deliverance that the present-day festival commemorates. The story of Israel crossing the sea and Pharaoh’s army being drowned does not occur until Exodus 14 and 15. But the saving of Israel’s firstborn children and animals after the first Passover feast is a foretaste of the saving, lifegiving actions that are to come. And so then, as now, Passover commemorates God’s saving, lifegiving actions.
Although we celebrate the life-giving, powerful act of our Lord in saving the firstborn Israelite children and animals in the original Passover, we must also look at the other side of this story. The story says that at midnight, the Lord killed the firstborn offspring in Egypt (12:29). The killing affected the children of those in power and those with no power. Pharaoh did send Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites away (verse 31); but we do need to look at the terrible cost. One explanation is that the killing of the firstborn children in Egypt means that all firstborn are dedicated to the Lord rather than to Egyptian gods (12:12). It can also be seen as retribution for Pharaoh’s intention to kill the male children of Israel (Exodus 1:22). Still, as we read the story of new life for Israel, we must be mindful of the death that it has brought to innocent children and animals and of the grief brought to countless homes.
We live in a time of wars and destruction. The Passover story helps remind us to weigh the benefits of life-giving, loving actions against the cost of destruction for other children of God. In the same way, as we commemorate and give thanks for God’s passing over and sparing of Israel’s firstborn children, we can weep with and for the mothers and fathers who awoke that dreadful night long ago to mourn their beloved firstborns. We are also left wondering why a God who is presented in the rest of the story as an agent of life and deliverance is also presented as the agent of such terrible death and destruction. We know that God’s plans aren’t our plans, and God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). We know that we cannot know God’s mind. It is with humility that we take our place on this side of eternity where we see only partially (1 Corinthians 13:12).
As we establish our own faithful practices and commemorations, we can emphasize that which is life-giving, loving, and liberating to all.