Last Sunday evening Minjing and I gathered with friends on Vashon Island for Passover. Passover is the story told in the first reading for today from Exodus. One of the things our Jewish hosts are able to do is ask hard questions. In the Bible stories that are read during the Passover meal those who are present are invited to ask questions about the stories, even to express doubts and concerns they have. For example, in the story of the people leaving Egypt for the Promised Land the Bible says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. “Really?” some of us asked. Is that how God works? Our host’s family has asked many hard questions over the years because their parents came face to face with Nazi persecution. Where was God during the genocide of six million Jews? they ask. What kind of a God would allow such a thing? Is there a God?
In today’s story from Exodus, the Lord says, I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
Well, what do you think? Is this the God you believe in? A God that strikes down every firstborn? Now, I’m a firstborn child so maybe I’m more sensitive to this story than those of you who aren’t! But tell me, is this the God you believe in? A God who kills? A God who kills every firstborn human and every firstborn animal?
Without the ability to ask questions, to challenge, to doubt the claims of our faith, it may be that we’ll find ourselves unprepared to ask hard questions of ourselves in relation to God and to one another. At some point we find ourselves spiritually out of practice: just going along with the crowd, believing what everyone else believes, doing what everyone else does, because when faced with the opportunity to grapple with uncomfortable questions, we didn’t.
The God described in Exodus 12 strikes down the Egyptians. Do you believe that? Or, to ask it a better way, does this description of God measure up to what you find in the life and teachings of Jesus?
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Does this sound to you like the kind of God that would strike down every firstborn human being and animal?
Not only do we who are beloved of God have the freedom to question how the Bible portrays the God we worship. It is our sacred duty to ask hard questions of the Scriptures. It is our duty to compare what we read, what we hear and what we believe against the bedrock of our faith: the law of love.
When Jesus becomes the lens through which we read Scripture, the lens through which we view the world, something happens. We begin to see in a new way. (It’s the difference between how I see with my glasses compared to seeing without my glasses!) For example, in the Passover story from Exodus, if the life and ministry of Jesus is the lens through which I see the story, I might find that the heart of the story is not about God’s wrath and murderous heart. Rather, it is about God’s grace, God’s mercy, and God’s love. That is the God revealed in Jesus Christ, the God we worship, and the God I look for when reading or hearing God’s Word.
This evening’s worship is about gratitude. It’s about Thanksgiving. And, most of all, it’s about love. The meal that we eat is called Eucharist, an ancient word that means…Thanksgiving! This simple meal is our Thanksgiving feast. The ritual of washing feet is an expression of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for the opportunity to serve, thanksgiving for the one whose feet we wash, and thanksgiving for the life we have been given to experience all of this. A life of gratitude is a life of faith. A life of faith is a life of gratitude.
Dear Friends in Christ, you are welcome in this place because Christ welcomes you and all people. So come to the table, come to the basin, come with your faith. Come with your questions and your doubts. Come, and remember that you are beloved!