Sermon – 11 September 2005

One of the things that modern life is teaching us is to pay attention to our own thoughts and feelings when we read a text. This week, we have read the story of the waves crashing down on the Egyptians after the Jewish people had hotfooted it to safety. Is it possible to read this story without pictures in our heads of New Orleans? Is it possible to read this without asking questions about the divided communities that the hurricane has exposed?

Righteous people escaping through the red sea, wicked Egyptians getting their comeuppance in the rising waters. Is that really how you can read that story this time?

Relatively wealthy, mostly white folk running for the hills in their cars queued up along the freeway. Poor, desperately poor, mostly black folk left behind in the city to face the storm.

Sometimes a storm exposes things ? dwellings long sunk into the sand can be brought out into the light of day; shipwrecks can suddenly appear which happened a long time ago, suddenly appearing after the wind and waves have died down.

I suppose that is a little how I feel looking at this passage this morning.

Earlier this month, I got a pack through the door asking me to keep Racial Justice Sunday today and to preach on the theme of racial justice. I put it in the bin, along with the countless other appeals for visibility or money which come from good people wanting my attention. (And clergy get more than most people).

However, something this week made me fish it out of the recycling bin and have another look.

That hurricane made me want to ask why the urban poor fared so badly in New Orleans. Why did help not come more quickly? What a divided community! Did no-one care? Who was to blame?

One of the clues comes in our reading of the Exodus. The Jewish people were slaves in Egypt. The iniquity of slavery in Egypt.

Who is to blame? The cry always goes up when a natural disaster is to happen. Who is to blame? And already there are those looking to pin this on a particular Pharaoh in his White House in Washington. Yet there have been other Pharaohs.

How did that racial mix in the Southern United States end up being the way it was. Part of the answer is slavery. The black people there are mostly descended from those who were themselves in slavery less than 200 years ago.

And we need to bring this close to home. I looked on the internet yesterday for links between the Slave Trade and Scotland and the first one which turned up was a document of a sale of slaves in 1750 by the Stirling family of the Keir estate ? the local big house to Bridge of Allan.

And I must admit that startled me a little.

The slaves had roots in Africa. The slave trade had roots uncomfortably close to home.

We think of the wealth of Glasgow being built by the Tobacco Lords. But that was a trade deeply compromised by slaves working on the land.

Now, we cannot change the events of the past themselves, but we can change the effects that they have on the present by acknowledging and recognising them.

The British Crime Survey estimates that there are now more than 200,000 racially motivated incidents in the United Kingdom every year. Attacks on Muslim people and on Asian people (whether Muslim or not) have increased dramatically since the London bombings of 7 July, as whole communities are unjustly blamed for the actions of a very few.

The scapegoating and blame culture which we see exposed in the bible is, sadly still rather too real.

The shipwreck that is exposed by the hurricane in America is the influence of a slaving mentality on the present day. Human trafficking and slavery are still with us after all.

The red sea parted and the slaves made a run for it and scarcely got their feet wet. When the slavers, the Egyptians tried to cross through the waters caught up with them. And the Jewish people wrote up this story as a story of comeuppance ? that a wrong had been righted.

Well, to put the blame onto God for every natural disaster will soon leave us in a terrible tangle of blame, and counter blame, righteousness giving way to self righteousness.

It was people with whom we have a connection who kept the slave trade going. However, it was people with whom we have connections who caused it to stop too. Sometimes we need to fight with giants in order to claim the name and status of pilgrim person in an alien world.

I believe that God wants God?s people to be safe. I believe that God wants God?s people to be free. Sometimes that means looking at the past in a new way. Sometimes it means keeping going through the wilderness assured of a promised land one way.

And I believe that every person is one of God?s people. Beloved of God.

For I am convinced that God does not cause terrible things to happen ? God walks in the shoes of the rescuer, God gives food and water through those who work for others, God saves, always saves as we save others.

An aspect of God?s justice is racial justice. And living in a land in which racial strife goes unchallenged and unrecognised far too often, let us read the story of Red Sea crossing with new vision.

Let it be that all God?s people know freedom and safety and love. God does not cause these things. God can only cause goodness.

No God who causes harm to anyone is a God with believing in anyway.

And to me, the only thing that God wants to drown us in is his grace and his infinite love.


  1. Anonymous says

    Re: Sermon – 11 September 2005
    Thank you for the wonderful sermon!

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