Readings — Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 149; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20
How many of you enjoy hot dogs? I do, and this Labor Day weekend I will be grilling a couple. And do you know the ingredients of hot dogs? Meat trimmings and fat, meat slurry, salt, garlic, and paprika. Hot dogs are made of leftovers, the waste products after butchering.
Why talk about hot dogs? Because hot dogs are just the opposite of the lamb of a Passover meal. For Passover only the best. “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male… taken from the sheep or from the goats”. Only the best is to be slaughtered at twilight and cooked over an open fire. Rather than used for breeding stock, the best of the flock is to be slaughtered and totally consumed before dawn.
Yet today’s reading from Exodus omits the important prelude to the Passover meal, eaten with haste, “loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand…”. Remember Moses went to Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go!” “Thus says the Lord God, Let my people go, so that they may worship me…”. Pharaoh’s reply was No. And there followed nine plagues. Scholars tell us that all nine were naturally occurring events in the history of Egypt, though not in such rapid succession.
- First, the river Nile turned blood red. Moses – Let my people go. Pharaoh – No.
- Second, there was the plague of frogs. Moses – Let my people go. Pharaoh – No.
- Third, there was the plague of gnats and mosquitos. Moses – Let my people go. Pharaoh – No.
- Fourth, there was the plague of flies. Moses – Let my people go. Pharaoh – No.
- Fifth, there was the plague of anthrax on horses and cattle. Moses – Let my people go. Pharaoh – No.
- Sixth, there was the plague of boils. Moses – Let my people go. Pharaoh – No.
- Seventh, there were storms of thunder, lightning, and hail. Moses – Let my people go. Pharaoh – No.
- Eighth, there were swarms of locusts. Moses – Let my people go. Pharaoh – No.
- Ninth, there was a wind storm of dust out of the desert. Moses – Let my people go. Pharaoh – No.
The last is from our reading today, the firstborn of human beings and animals will be struck down. Moses – Let my people go. Pharaoh – No. As the firstborns began to die around him, Pharaoh relented; Pharaoh listened, and the Hebrew slaves of Egypt were free to flee. As they began to move away, the Pharaoh reversed his decision, and his chariots and soldiers pursued them until they were swept away by the Red Sea, attempting to follow Hebrews who passed through on the dry sea bed. Pharaoh’s heart was hard. Pharaoh would not listen.
In fact, almost all of Holy Scripture can be summed up with:
God speaks and the people’s hearts are hardened and they do not listen
God speaks and the people listen and act in concert with God.
This is the story of Moses, of Elijah and Elisha, of Isaiah and Jeremiah, of Hosea and Micah, down to Jesus who was hung of the cross.
In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln composed the Emancipation Proclamation to set the enslaved people in the southern rebellious states free, and then he put it in his desk drawer. And he waited, and he waited, and he waited for a decisive Union victory. That victory came at Antietam, Maryland when in the bloodiest day of the entire Civil War the Confederate advance was halted on the 16th of September. At a cabinet meeting on the 22nd of September, Abraham Lincoln took it from his desk drawer and signed it. He later wrote that “God had decided this question in favor of the slave”. Abraham Lincoln listened to God, and let the people go free. The war itself would continue to almost another year and a half. But Abraham Lincoln had heard the voice of God speaking in his heart. “God had decided this question in favor of the slave…”
Studying God’s Word, especially the words of the one hung on the cross, keeps our hearts open, keeps our ears tuned to God’s voice.
Worshiping together, like today, keeps our hearts open, keeps our ears tuned to God’s voice.
Saying our personal prayers keeps our hearts open, keeps our ears tuned to God’s voice.
A final point, going back to the Passover meal, to be eaten in haste, loins girded, sandals on feet, walking stick in hand. We are to be at all times ready to move, ready to get off our butts, ready to get off our baptisms, ready to move with God. We are to be ready to move into working with God.
That’s why in former times clergy were to be single, unencumbered by family obligations, so that they would listen to God and be free to act in concert with the purposes of God.
God spoke through Moses, and Pharaoh never got it right.
The Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, spoke, and the powerful people of Jerusalem hung him on a cross. They didn’t get it right.
God spoke to a rail-splitter, a humble man, a working man, named Abraham Lincoln who become President of these United States. He listened, and he acted in concert with the purposes of God. He got it right.
I pray that we, too, will listen to God’s voice, and will act in concert with the purposes of God. I ray that we, too, will get it right.