I am struck, today, by the passage from the Hebrew Bible. Last week the lectionary recalled for us the story of Moses and the burning bush, when he was called out by God to lead the Exodus from Egypt—to help enact God’s desire to free the Hebrew people from slavery and bondage. Fast forward nine chapters and nine horrible plagues, and we find ourselves at the night of the first passover.
You can imagine the scene in each household—just how strung out everyone is, Egyptian and Hebrew alike. I can’t imagine that any of them has ever witnessed such powerful and bizarre supernatural forces: frogs, gnats, flies, dead livestock, storms, disease, even the Nile River turning to blood. Emotionally and physically exhausted, and no-doubt beginning to take their fear, grief, and frustration out on one another, Moses tells them that there is a final plague to come—the worst of them all. During the night, God will sweep over the land of Egypt, visiting each household to take the life of every firstborn. To avoid this fate, however, the Hebrews were to undertake a particular set of actions, including smearing the posts and lintel of their doors with the blood of a lamb they were to have ritually prepared for dinner. God would see this blood on the doorposts as a sign of faithfulness, of dedication, of appreciation of God’s promise of freedom, and pass over the household. The consequences of this final plague proved too much for Pharaoh, and the Hebrew people were sent on their way to freedom.
I know there is a lot to unpack here, but let’s just focus on this idea of faithfulness today. If you’re like me, you probably drew some parallels between the exhaustion of the characters in this story to your own exhaustion in the midst of our modern plagues. As “virtual school” has begun in the Alexander household, I can’t help but feel a little bit strung out myself. There have been a few moments I’m not proud of. I know my kids are feeling it too, and certainly so are their teachers. I’ve heard the exasperation in their voices over Zoom calls as they try to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation. You get to a point where you just can’t make out the silver lining anymore, you know? It’s just plain hard. You get tired of “working on your attitude,” and “taking deep breaths” just don’t quite cut it. So, what then is left? How about faithfulness?
Now, before you dismiss it and say, “oh, I’ve tried to be faithful, but I just can’t get past the idea of a God that would allow all this to happen in the first place,” let’s take a minute to understand the concept of faithfulness a little more. Having faith is not the same as “working on your attitude,” “taking deep breaths, ” or having your theological conundrums solved. Having faith is not a self-help strategy that aims to improve your mood. Rather, faith “involves a decision to trust rather than a logic that verifies” (Sheldrake 297). Again, faith “involves a decision to trust rather than a logic that verifies.” To be logical you have to have your wits about you. It’s hard to be logical when you’re yelling at your kids for not doing their homework, or when you’re just shy of throwing your iPad across the room for not letting you open a document…again. Do you think that the Hebrew people, after feeling the crippling effects of nine plagues, reasoned that it still made sound logical sense to believe Moses’s stories and this promise of freedom that seemed to never come? No, they were just doing their best to get out of bed in the morning. So, even if they didn’t have the mental space to “logic” their way out of this situation, they could still make a decision…they could choose to trust in the goodness of God, or they could choose to give up.
And here’s the key. For the Hebrews, the decision to trust—or faithfulness—was lived out in the form of concrete action. As Moses instructed them, they painted blood on their doorposts, they prepared a meal in a particular way, and they ate together as families. There was probably some yelling across the dinner table as they took out the day’s frustrations on one another, but through these ritual actions they demonstrated their hope for the fulfillment of God’s promise, and their love for one another.
Theologian Michael Paul Gallagher writes that faith is “more a drama of companionship and vision than a theory, more of an event than a philosophy. It is a lived adventure…” (Sheldrake 298). Living faithfully during this challenging time in our lives has less to do with logic, rationalization, or mood, and more to do with concrete action. We demonstrate our trust in God and love for one another by praying together (even if it is through Zoom), or by sharing a meal together (even it is by delivering homemade cookies to your neighbor while wearing a mask), or by virtually showing up for school, (even if you know its not going to be the educational experience you had hoped for). Doing these things are signs of faithfulness, and God recognizes them when God passes over.
How do you paint your doorposts today? How is your faithfulness less about mood and more about action? And how do you demonstrate this faithfulness to a world that desperately needs to see it? For, if the stories in Exodus are to be believed, it is faithfulness that will lead us to the parting waters and reveal a clear path ahead.
The Rev. Canon Jason Alexander
St. Nicholas’, Maumelle | September 6, 2020
Proper 18, Year A
Sheldrake, Philip. The New Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. Louisville: WJK = Westminster John Knox Press, 2013.