A sermon preached
Readings: Exodus 12:1-14, Revelation 5:11-14
will be a sign for you
on the houses where you are;
and when I see the blood, I will pass over you.
No destructive plague will touch you
when I strike Egypt. (Exodus 12:13)
Hurricane Katrina has this week regularly been
called an “Act of God”.
That may be a legal phrase, but it begs a theological question or two.
Did God send the hurricane?
What is or was God doing in New Orleans?
We’ll come back to that question in a moment,
but first let’s just remind ourselves of our OT lesson set for today.
It is also, as it happens,
the story of major calamity befalling a rich and powerful nation –
in this case Egypt –
so let’s see if there is anything to learn.
You recall the story –
God’s people Israel are enslaved by the Egyptians.
So God inflicts a series of plagues on the Egyptians
in order to enable the Israelites to escape.
The final and decisive plague
is to be the killing of the firstborn Egyptians.
On the day in question,
the Israelites are told sacrifice a lamb
and paint the blood of the lamb on their doorposts.
God then passes through Egypt,
slaughtering all the firstborn of the land.
But when he reaches a household
with blood smeared on the doorposts,
he passes over that household.
So he preserves the Israelite children unharmed
whilst slaughtering the Egyptian children.
I asked if we could learn anything from that.
According to the Zionist
the matter is quite simple.
God acted this week in New Orleans
exactly as he did 3000 years ago in Egypt –
bared his mighty arm and smitten his enemies –
then it was the Egyptians, now it is the Americans.
The USA – so the argument goes
has in the past few weeks supported and encouraged
the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza –
as such the USA is an enemy of Israel.
Therefore the God of Israel has smitten George Bush
just as he smote his enemy Pharaoh of old.
I will leave the Rabbis to debate the logic of that
from a Jewish perspective.
But from a Christian perspective –
and as Christians we read the Book of Exodus
in the context of Christ and the Cross –
this is way way off beam.
Our God is not just
the God of Israel –
yes he is God of Israel, but not Israel only.
He is also the God of Egypt and of Palestine,
of America, and of Iraq.
Indeed he has a Father’s loving care for every child of his
in every single nation on the planet.
”We have a Gospel to proclaim,
good news for all throughout the earth…”
However he may have been
perceived in the days of Moses,
we now know that our God is no tribal God,
and we should not try to monopolize him
for our own national interests whatever those may be.
Our God does not intervene
in the day to day lives of humanity to deliver summary justice
into the lives of us sinful people –
and thank goodness he doesn’t -
if he did, there would be so many hurricanes flying about
none of us would know which way to turn.
You remember how James and John asked Jesus
to send down fire on his enemies (Lk 9:54-5) –
he refused to do so.
That is not Christ’s way.
No - God doesn’t throw weather systems at people
because he disagrees with them.
And certainly not because they come from the wrong race or nation.
Those of you working at the Met
Office here in Exeter
take many things into account when plotting weather systems.
But I am not aware that Met Office Computers
plot local or national sinfulness as a predictor of the weather.
There is plenty of evil in the world,
but God does not deal with it by wreaking vengeance from on high.
He is not like a National Guardsman
helicoptering in to the human situation with a mission
to search out sin and then shoot to kill.
Quite the reverse -
He is alongside us in the water, in the Superdome,
in the filth and the stench.
That is what the cross is about.
And we see that worked out in the New
The writers take the Passover story – central to Judaism –
and turn it on its head.
To put it simply (maybe over-simply):
For the writer of the Book of Exodus,
God is the avenging destroyer who metes out
the suffering on the sinners – he sends the plagues
For the writers of the New Testament,
God has a radically different role to play –
he is the slaughtered lamb.
Suffering alongside his people,
his blood becomes sign and symbol of salvation for sinners.
Here is the heart of the Gospel – Try as we will,
we cannot save ourselves (be it by Jewish ritual or Anglo Saxon good deeds)
In the grace of God alone may we trust.
And if you wonder about that –
if you wonder whether the human race is indeed so inadequate –
whether we need God to save us -
well look at New Orleans this week.
Was there ever such an acted parable of human fallibility?
Here is the most powerful and affluent nation in
the world –
finding out that it cannot even save bodies let alone souls
In Egypt, the Children of
Israel painted their doorposts
with the Blood of the Lamb.
In New Orleans this week men
climbed onto their rooftops with paint to write messages –
“Help” – “SOS”.
But to no avail – no one came to save their souls.
We are perhaps wise to leave the American people
to apportion blame and responsibility for the events of the past week.
It would be too easy for us in Europe
to point fingers at the failings of others.
We are better to recognize that
we are all part of that same fallen humanity:
which ravages the planet
and wonders why the weather changes
on military arsenals & senseless luxury
and wonders why the basic needs of all are not provided for.
which espouses individual materialism and greed
and wonders why when a crisis arises
there is so little sense of community
about the equality of humankind
but actually when the going gets tough abandons the poor.
Democrat Representative Elijah
Cummings commented this week:
“We cannot allow it to be said by history
that the difference between those who lived and those who died …
was nothing more than poverty, age or skin colour,"
Sadly that has been the accurate verdict of history
on most of the history of civilization.
Looking at global economics it is manifestly true of our century.
Someone once asked Ghandi
what he thought of Western Civilization.
He said he thought it would be a very good idea.
The blunt truth is that those of us
(many here today but by no means all)
who have lived all our lives in the rich world
tend to live lives cocooned
from the true depths of human frailty and fallibility –
and this week the veneer of our so called Western civilization
has been removed.
We are forced to see things as they are.
In another eerie commentary on the
some search and rescue teams in Mississippi this week
were daubing houses with black or red paint –
black meant “there are dead bodies here”
whilst red was to indicate survivors needing rescue.
We could be back in ancient Egypt
daubing the doorposts with the red blood of the lamb.
What is God doing in all this?
What he always does -
Through his suffering he provides the lamb for the sacrifice –
In Christ’s name the sign on the household of the
remains red for life,
for a casualty very sick,
beyond saving itself,
but still, thank God,
albeit through the waters of death itself,
marked down for salvation.
One brief PS
Amidst the sick and exhausted
on the sidewalks of New Orleans,
a reporter came across a sick man of 70 with a heart condition –
he had stayed in the city when the storm struck,
but had become too weak to move further.
His name: Fr Bob Brennan, Catholic Priest.
I know nothing more of Fr Brennan, but there,
if you want one, is a symbol of what it means to follow Christ:
Hear the voice of the lamb from the throne:
My loving work is your
and the salvation of all people.
But as my followers I call on
you to share that work,
to take up your cross.
Do not turn your back on
suffering and heartache –
rather stay with it –
sit with my people in the sidewalk and feel what they feel -
For, says our God, the gutter
is my home,
and there above all other places, will you find me