Sermon – 21 August 2005

This morning, one of Scotland?s church leaders is quoted in the papers as saying this.

‘?They? (and he is talking about radical Islamists) have been welcomed as brothers and have treated us as enemies. If we are their enemies they should have nothing to do with us, but they don?t. They speak out against us from within and get heart operations and care on our system.?’

He then goes on to criticise those who work for civil liberties.

I have no doubt that this kind of thing is popular and no doubt at all that some of you may think that is a piece of common sense.

However, listen to the words of the book of Exodus before making your mind up, for there is more than a whiff of the Egyptian Pharaoh about such comments.

The new king said, ?Look, the people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us??therefore they set taskmasters to oppress them.

As you reflect on what you hear in the media and what you read in the papers this week, remember that God?s intention is that we are free from Pharaoh. We are not in any sense set free so that we can become Pharaoh.

The book of Exodus is God?s great coming out story. The word Exodus describes the coming out of the Jewish people from slavery and it is the story of God calling his people to move on and become whole and become free. It is the story of God?s people becoming truly themselves.

This is the great narrative of freedom close to the beginning of the bible without which little of Israel?s story would make sense. It is, if you like, the time when the Hebrew people were galvanised by a particular experience, moving out of slavery in Egypt and via wandering in the wilderness into freedom in the land that they believed had been promised to them.

This morning, we have begun reading the Exodus story, and we will continue reading it for eight weeks ? a length of time which underlines the importance of this story. For this is not just about the Jewish people coming out of slavery into freedom. This is the story which tells us that God calls each of us out from what binds us and promises us freedom. It is my belief that that freedom is at the heart of God?s offer to the world and at the very heart of the good news that we preach and teach.

I will come back to the Exodus story in a moment or two, but right now let me turn the pages and look briefly at the gospel reading. And lo and behold, we find the same theme ? what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Traditionally, the church has appropriated these words and set them aside for the priesthood ? for priests are told that they have the power to bind and loose. And I have to admit that I did not know what that meant until I was actually ordained a priest, and I don?t think I can explain it very well now, though I know it to be true.

However, all the sacraments, however you count them, are living symbols of something which we hold on to together. They are each times and places where the grace of God breaks through and the truth of the gospel becomes tangible ? touchable if you like.

And the power to bind and loose is something which we all have generically as God?s people. Although priests receive that sacramentally, it would be as nothing if we did not all have it. So what does it mean?

It means that each of us has the power to make decisions. It means that each of us must make many choices as we journey through life. It means that the choices that we make count for a great deal. It means that God has given us freewill.

And the point is that the decisions that we make in life, though we are free to make them have cosmic significance.

Do we choose to live lives which set others free or which bind them?

God?s way is always the way of freedom.

When the slaves in America read the story of the Exodus from the same bibles that their European (no, let us be honest their Scots) masters read, they knew that the story of Exodus was for them.

For the story of Exodus is not just a piece of Jewish history. We have little archaeological evidence of it in fact ? in terms of history this matters very little, but in terms of the history of the human struggle this is the story. It is an archetype of all the stories of people being set free by struggle and pilgrimage through desert places. It is the reminder that we need today that the civil rights movement is God?s own Godly Civil Rights Movement.

The value of these stories, of course, is that they become our story through retelling.

The Jewish people told and retold this story until it became the Jewish story ? and some of the anguish of the settlers being made to leave Gaza this week relates to the telling and retelling of this story.

The key to that puzzle is to ask not only what needs to happen in order for me to be free but to recognise that I am not free if what I do enslaves my neighbour.

This is something which people of goodwill all know instinctively. For freedom is one of those values like love which increases when it is shared. Freedom ? liberty from all that binds us, constrains us, tortures us and holds us ? is God?s plan for the world if there is any plan at all.

And it is my belief that freedom is in itself the promised land. For ownership of a contested piece of land is no freedom at all. Freedom is itself God?s promise. The struggle to be free is the struggle to be whole. The struggle to be free is the struggle to free one another. The struggle to be free is the struggle that each of us is engaged in to be truly ourselves ? living in God?s garden of peace and security.

In the weeks to come, we will read more of the freedom story of the Hebrew slaves. We will hear of Moses meeting God and being called on to lead the people out into liberty.

No doubt we will also hear distinguished voices trying to scapegoat our Muslim brothers and sisters.

As we hear in church the call of God to Moses to set his people free, let us hear the call of God deep within our own souls. For it is God himself who cannot abide that which binds us. It is the Lord himself who would break the snare of the fowler as the psalmist says. It is God himself who calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds as St Paul says.

For, it is God himself who calls us to come out.

To come out from what binds us.

To come out from what harms us.

To come out from the slavery in Egypt into the light of a new day. Amen.

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