Lazy Poor People

Last night in class we walked through Moses’s story, start to finish. We talked about the basket and the river and the princess, the nursemaid and the murder, the desert and the burning bush. It is a familiar story even to those who don’t go to church. Every Easter, flip through the channels and you’ll find Charlton Heston holding a staff aloft in front of parting water.

This time through, however, there was a new story inside the old familiar one. I knew the story. I’ve heard it. I’ve colored in the Sunday School coloring sheets about it in my youth. But it didn’t stick out like it did this time.

When most people retell the story, Moses grabs his belongings, ties it to his staff, grabs Aaron and heads off to Egypt to tell Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” Pharaoh says “Tough tookies, cookies!” to Moses and God sends the plagues one after another, nasty vile diseased attacks until Pharaoh could take no more and sends the Israelites out of Egypt.

We skip right over Exodus 5.

Moses doesn’t first request freedom for God’s people….he requests a festival. He and Aaron go to Pharaoh and ask for the Hebrews to be allowed 3 days to go have a festival to God in the wilderness. Pharaoh replies he doesn’t know the Hebrews God and he isn’t going to give them 3 days vacation from slavery to go have a party. They have work to be done.

Moses and Aaron press the point and Pharaoh becomes irritated. He sends word to the slave drivers and overseers that they are not to give the people straw to make the bricks, they are now to require the Hebrews to gather the straw and make the bricks, but they get no more time allotted to carry out double the work. They can’t meet this goal and so the slave drivers beat them. The Israelite overseers go to Pharaoh and asks why he’s done this and how is this fair. Pharaoh calls them lazy and sends him off with the same demands, now covered in insults in the ears of the people Moses came to try and liberate. This sets Israel against Moses and they tell him off for making trouble for them.

Moses then speaks to God and says, in essence, “What are you doing? Did you really send me here to be an annoyance to Pharaoh and for you NOT to rescue your people?” God says, “Look out. I’m about to blow the lid off this joint.” You know, He essentially said that….just in more holy language.

I know we rush through this part of the story if not skip it all together so we can get faster to the blood and locust and boils and death which is far flashier than not making bricks. But last night I couldn’t rush through it. I read it and then reread it and then read it again. I wondered why Moses didn’t ask for freedom from the first go. I wondered why God doesn’t have a voice before the request is made. I wondered what the purpose was in allowing Israel to become put out with the liberating leader. But none of that is what drew my eyes back over the page again and again. It was this starting at verse 6….

“That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies,”

…and then skipping to verse 15…

“Then the Israelite overseers went and appealed to Pharaoh: “Why have you treated your servants this way? Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, ‘Make bricks!’ Your servants are being beaten, but the fault is with your own people.” Pharaoh said, “Lazy, that’s what you are—lazy! That is why you keep saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’  Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks.”

Ouch, y’all.

Not ouch because Pharaoh was mean to this faceless mass of slaves, but ouch because I recognize what Pharaoh said from our world today. We have people who have less straw, people we’ve taken straw away from and are holding it back from them, and yet we demand they make the same number of bricks as people who got straw delivered to their door. We are a society built on inequity still using inequity as an operating tool.

This is where I need your grace. Because I don’t have a solution. I’ve read article after article from everyone’s vantage point (except those that promote violence, because I can’t stomach the words that encourage violence as a solution from an ideology). I’ve listened to news anchors and commentators and watched as the stories we tell on Netflixz and Hulu have changed in tone guided by Hollywood’s values (positive or negative).

I read these things, watch these things, and no matter the viewpoint I walk away every time with the same response…”Yeah, but….” “Yeah, but she asks the other to see her point of view but makes no effort to see his.” “Yeah, but poverty extends beyond color lines, and I’ve served kids of every shade and seen kids of all colors overcome and kids of all colors fail.” “Yeah, but ignorance and frustration don’t make those behaviors acceptable.” Yeah, but…yeah, but…

I don’t have the liberty of a “yeah, but” here. I can choose to allow the words of the media, social or otherwise to form my opinions for me, or I can choose to allow the word of God to guide me. This is the word of God.

I feel sort of like Moses, who went to solve a problem and suggested something to Pharaoh and it blew up in his face, so he turned back to God and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” And God replies, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.” He took over and took care of it.

If you want an answer on how to fix America, it isn’t here. But let me speak to the church for a minute….

Church,

Don’t be Pharaoh. If all you can be in America is Moses, turning around and saying to God, I tried, but I don’t get what you’re doing?!?!, then be Moses, and be ready to step aside so God can do his thing. But stop being Pharaoh. We need to figure out where we stand, on race relations, on poverty, on refugees, on immigrants, on oppression, social rights and we need to do that not starting with media, but with the word of God. If you have an abundance of straw, hand it over to someone who doesn’t, don’t complain that there is a perfectly good field out there full of straw and those lazy poor people just need to stop thinking about partying and go get straw.  We don’t need to warp scripture to fit changing worldviews, but we can’t ignore scripture to allow us to stay comfortable.

Me

I read the passage three full times last night and reread it today. I wrote this blog in three drafts. I don’t know how this entry ends. I don’t know how to wrap this up with some neat little, this fixes everything little Kumbaya bow. I still see room to grow and room to see other’s viewpoints in every perspective I’ve read out in the world. But of all the things I’ve read in the past year about the social issues faces our country, this has been the only one that’s left me with no buts.

So I share it here, and maybe you can find something out of this passage that hits home. Or maybe you can share some other scripture that speaks to you with the rest of us. I want to be involved in a conversation that starts in the Word of God and addresses the concerns of our society. I’ve been involved in a conversation for far to long that starts in the concerns of our society and address the Word of God.

Any passages to share?

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This Time Last Year

       I’m continually amazed at what can change in a year.

In January this was particularly obvious as I recalled the shaking shell of a girl I was. January 2016 I was holding my breath and by January 2017 I hadn’t just exhaled, but had repaired all the damage I’d suffered from the extended lack of oxygen. As the year progressed, I remember thinking over and over how I felt like a cat whose fur was growing back in after it’d licked itself bald from stress. January to January was an incredible journey.

But April to April? Can I see such a change there, so marked that I am almost unidentifiable from the person who followed the direction to “Keep writing, Sarah?” By April of 2016 I’d already come so far from January, but I have often found April is take two of the comparative months. Generally by April I can see what my New Year’s Resolution should have been and get to work on it. About the time everyone else is canceling their gym memberships, I am signing up to better myself.

I am very grateful now that I have managed to keep the blogging up for a year now, because a year ago when I started this blog I took an account of myself and documented my mind and my heart. I opened the first post from last April, the 8th, and I’m ready to sit down and take another account of who I am in heart and mind.

A year ago….

 There are days that I ache for Ohio, for our family we left behind,
the children who are quickly becoming adults, the emotional closeness
that proximity allows, the adults who are still growing themselves…..
There are days that I would flee back there in a heartbeat and settle back
into that comfortable life.

………and today.

This weekend we will load up the suitcase and trunks and
return for a quick trip back to our old stomping grounds. Easter
this year will not just be a reminder of the life after death of our Savior,
not just a reminder of the eternal life available to us after our death,
but a reminder that God allows endings to bring about His new beginnings.
He allows eternal live not to be lived only in the hereafter, but grants us
heaven on Earth. And ours is Virginia. Ohio was the birthplace of my adulthood,
and I cherish it, but those fly away home pangs are gone. Because I am home.

     A year ago…

           I’ve had those times, too, where I can see immediate clarity to
how I’m being used here, but much of my time has been spent feeling
a bit like I’m mucking through mire. On the topic, I check in from
time to time, and the answer is almost always the same, “I’m preparing you.”
For what, I’m not sure, but if there is one thing I’ve learned since coming
to the valley, it’s that His plans are always better than my plans.

and today….

This almost makes me chuckle. After 3 years of “I’m preparing you,”
He is filling in the rest. And while being able to complete that sentence
with “for ministry” is a step forward, there is still a vagueness to
the exact method of that. I can only imagine the journey ahead in the
coming year while He continues to unwrap this gift, and I am so excited
to peel back the paper. I’m in the middle of my third class and the
most clear lesson I’ve learned is this. In all that time of preparation, any
number of times I told God that I was pretty sure I was ready for anything,
but today I am acutely aware of how much more preparation I need.

      A year ago…..

          Heritage in Ohio was my home, but this was a good home
away from home. Over the past four months, this church has
supported me, has connected with me, has given me the opportunity
to serve and be served, spoken to me and has sidled alongside
Heritage in my heart. Perhaps the situation is something more akin
to a duplex, than a beach house.

                                                                                               and today…

We officially joined our church here, Harrisonburg First Church
of the Nazarene. There was a long stretch of time that I would have
said it would be a bittersweet experience, but it was with an
undivided heart that I was able to commit to being in HFCN’s body,
and to be doing so not out of obedience, or obligation, or convenience,
but truly joyful that God brought us to this local congregation.

I think a year later I would see myself as settled, but still growing. Perhaps, sprouted or budding would make sense as the stage of development in my little garden here. I wrote a sermon for a class recently on Joshua. Joshua spent all this time in the shadow of Moses. Even though from the beginning it was Joshua who would ultimately lead God’s people into the Promised Land, he was denied leadership for over 40 years. He didn’t use that time to pout or to compare himself to Moses, he used it to support the current leadership and to go into the tent of meeting and to remain in the presence of the most Holy God.

This is where I’ve been for the past year, in that tent, enjoying the presence of God. And there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. There may very well come a day when I am fighting battles, marching around my own Jericho, and I will remember the time I had over the past year, drawing near to Him, with sweet remembrance and jealousy….but I sincerely hope that by next April I can look back and say that no matter what growth I’ve exhibited, no matter how much the world looks different to me or I to the world, I hope that it can be said of me, that I went into the tent of meeting and did not depart.