Speaking to Pharaoh
Lutheran Legislative Event Opening Worship
Bishop Michael Rinehart
February 15, 2015

Exodus 5:1-21

Afterwards Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.” ’ 2But Pharaoh said, ‘Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.’ 3Then they said, ‘The God of the Hebrews has revealed himself to us; let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God, or he will fall upon us with pestilence or sword.’ 4But the king of Egypt said to them, ‘Moses and Aaron, why are you taking the people away from their work? Get to your labors!’ 5Pharaoh continued, ‘Now they are more numerous than the people of the land and yet you want them to stop working!’ 6That same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people, as well as their supervisors, 7‘You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as before; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8But you shall require of them the same quantity of bricks as they have made previously; do not diminish it, for they are lazy; that is why they cry, “Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.” 9Let heavier work be laid on them; then they will labour at it and pay no attention to deceptive words.’

10 So the taskmasters and the supervisors of the people went out and said to the people, ‘Thus says Pharaoh, “I will not give you straw. 11Go and get straw yourselves, wherever you can find it; but your work will not be lessened in the least.” ’ 12So the people scattered throughout the land of Egypt, to gather stubble for straw. 13The taskmasters were urgent, saying, ‘Complete your work, the same daily assignment as when you were given straw.’ 14And the supervisors of the Israelites, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten, and were asked, ‘Why did you not finish the required quantity of bricks yesterday and today, as you did before?’

15 Then the Israelite supervisors came to Pharaoh and cried, ‘Why do you treat your servants like this? 16No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, “Make bricks!” Look how your servants are beaten! You are unjust to your own people.’ 17He said, ‘You are lazy, lazy; that is why you say, “Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.” 18Go now, and work; for no straw shall be given you, but you shall still deliver the same number of bricks.’ 19The Israelite supervisors saw that they were in trouble when they were told, ‘You shall not lessen your daily number of bricks.’ 20As they left Pharaoh, they came upon Moses and Aaron who were waiting to meet them. 21They said to them, ‘The Lord look upon you and judge! You have brought us into bad odour with Pharaoh and his officials, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.’

Grace to you and peace.

You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

1. Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh.

Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh. Think about that.

But what about separation of church and state? You will hear: Pastors and people, stay out of politics! You will hear: Preachers, stick to preachin’. You should not be meddling in affairs of the state. There is no precedent for this.

Oh no? Let’s take a look at a story in the Hebrew Bible, the central story.

“Let my people go!” Moses and Aaron had the audacity to call for an end to slavery.

“Let my people go?” Pharaoh: “Who do you think you are Moses and Aaron? By what authority are you speaking to me? These slaves have no rights under the law. Who are you to tell me what to do? These people have no legal rights.”

Then maybe the laws need to change.

MLK: “Never forget that everything Hitler did was legal.”

Then the slaves became more numerous in the land. Sound familiar?

“Get to work! Build our pyramids, but we will not give you any rights.” Sound familiar?

Is remaining silent even an option? Woe to us if we remain silent in the midst of injustice.

Look back at Nazi Germany. Too many Christians remained silent. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem is filled with Lutherans who were complicit in the atrocities, simply by their silence. Again, MLK:

In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

What if Dietrich Bonhoeffer had said, “I can’t speak out against the Nazi government. That would violate separation of church and state.” Well, he might still be alive I suppose. You know the folks at Union theological seminary wanted him to stay in New York, but he felt he could not. He was called to be a voice crying in the wilderness.

What’s your voice? What injustice has God placed on your heart before which you cannot be silent?

We speak what must be spoken, whether we get results or not. We cannot not speak up.

If they say you are conflating church and state, you say, “We are a moral voice, not a partisan voice.

If they say you are conflating church and state, quote the establishment clauses in the First Amendment of the Constitution,

Congress shall make no law
Respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

That’s it. No law establishing religion or prohibiting it. You tell them we are not proposing a theocracy, or an established religion. We are Moses and Aaron speaking to Pharaoh. Whether they hear or not, they will know a prophet has been among them.

2. Count the cost.

You want to advocate on behalf of the slaves, Moses and Aaron? You want to stand up for the marginalized? Do you have any idea what people will do to you when you stand up for the marginalized?

They burned a Mosque in Houston this week. Try going to their web page and offering support. Watch what happens.

Try inviting the LGBT community to church and watch what happens, just to mention a random situation.

Try welcoming immigrants… Advocacy is not for wimps. Just ask Moses and Aaron.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)

So next, Pharaoh then told the taskmasters to tell the supervisors to tell the slaves, “Don’t give them straw. Let them collect their own straw. But keep their quotas up.”

The ancient brick-making process can still be seen on Egyptian Tomb Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. See below.

When the slaves did not keep up their quotas, the taskmasters had the supervisors beaten. Have you seen the reports that have come out about the lynchings this week? They’re now saying there were 4000 lynchings prior to 1950, many more than suspected. When those in power stand to lose power, they will not shrink back from the most heinous, violent acts.

The supervisors then turned on Moses and Aaron and said, “Look what you have done. You have put us into a bad odor with Pharaoh and his officials. You have put a sword in their hand with which to kill us.

Know this. When you advocate on behalf of the voiceless, those in power will dismiss you or resist you. Know this.

Moses and Aaron fear that they have made things worse. Moses thing goes to God and says, “Why have you sent me?”

Moses and Aaron fear that they have made it worse. Expect to question yourself. Expect to be questioned.

Luther to Melanchthon: Sin boldly.

BTW, this text does not appear in our three-year lectionary. But here we have what every prophet is called to do: speak to the powerful on behalf of the powerless.

3. What does this have to do with Jesus? Everything.

As Marcus Borg like to say, “They didn’t crucify him for nothing.” Jesus wasn’t tortured and killed for preaching Precious Moments sermons about love.

Greater love has no one than this: that you lay on your life or your friends.

Jesus spoke boldly to the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin, to Herod and to Pilate. And so dis the early church. To proclaim Jesus is Lord was to say that Caesar was not. To say Jesus is the son of God was to say that Caesar was not, even though the coins with which they bought their daily bread said “Caesar Augustus son of God.” To say Jesus is Lord was and act of sedition, which is why Christians were persecuted, crucified and fed to the lions. To be a follower of Christ was to answer to a higher moral authority than the state.

Luke 31 says,

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus], ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.”’ (Luke 13:31-32)

Translation: I’ll leave when I’m good and ready to leave. Jesus had grit.

Yes, the apostle Paul in Romans told people to be subject to the governing authorities. But let’s just think about that for minute. Where was Paul sitting when he wrote many of his letters? In jail… Let that sink in for a moment… Why, why would Paul be in jail?

For preaching the gospel, even when it was against the law.
• Could it be for proclaiming the equality of all people, in spite of the Roman system of citizens, non-citizens, women and slaves?
• For preaching the insidious good news that all people are citizens and saints, no longer strangers?
• For announcing that there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord?

Paul didn’t have to convince anybody, he was merely the voice. It is the power of the divine arc of justice in history that ultimately tips the balance. We are but humble messengers, with a vision of a new creation.

4. Where’s the Good News in all this?

There’s lots of good news here. First of all we are people of the resurrection. We know that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, so we are freed to speak boldly. The love of Christ has been poured into our hearts so we are free to share that love with the world, at all costs. As people of the resurrection we know God’s future for humanity.

But there’s more good news. We have a God who delivers, a God who casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the weak and lowly. Who has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich empty away. Yes it does actually say that, in the Gospel of Luke, out of the mouth of Mary.

More: We have a God who still sends prophets to speak truth to power. Maybe you are one of them. Good news, it is not Moses’ oratory skills that win the day. It is, in the end forces completely beyond Moses’ control the turn the tide. Moses is just The Voice.

More good news: God has called you to be the voice crying in the wilderness too, or else you probably wouldn’t be here today. Well, maybe that’s not such good news.

Know this: Even if they have a cross prepared for you, God can bring new life even out of the humiliation of the cross. The assassination of Martin Luther King Junior was horrible. Did you know that they assassinated his mother too? Someone shot her why she was playing the organ in church. But King’s death, the death of a nonviolent leader, woke up the world. “And I when I am lifted up will draw people into myself.”

The good news is you don’t have to have magical powers or phenomenal oratory skills. Our role is just to point to the problem, shed light on the darkness. Lookee over there. What’s going on over there? What’s that all about?

The good news is we are privileged to be the body of Christ. To Love the unlovable, touch the untouchable. Be a voice for the voiceless.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. You are free!
• You are free to live boldly into the new creation,
• to announce the kingdom of God that is breaking into our world.
• You are free to proclaim freedom to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, good news to the poor.
• You are free to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger,
• Free to stand before Pharaoh and say, “Let my people go.”
• free to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.