Inspired by Exodus 4:27-29; 5:1-9
If Exodus were a Netflix series, which I imagine Exodus could be, last week’s message scanned over the first three seasons.
Season 1: Joseph dies, a new king rules, Israelites become Egyptian slaves, the new king orders the slaughter of all Israelite baby boys, Egyptian midwives sneakily disobeying, a baby is born named Moses.
Season 2: Moses’ mother loses her son to save his life; a royal woman finds Moses. Moses grows up, goes out into the town, the baby who is now a man identifies the gross mistreatment of his people and murders an Egyptian as an act of desperation to save the life of a Hebrew slave whom the Egyptian was mercilessly beating.
Season 3: God comes to Moses in the form of a burning bush, explains his connection to the suffering of the Hebrew people, and tells Moses he is to go to the king and demand that he set the Hebrew people free.
Now, this last Season might sound like only one or two episodes. Still, I assure you, given the dialogue in that encounter between Moses and God, we would have at least a season of good material. I’d estimate at least eight episodes of Moses self-deprecating himself out of his ‘chosen-ness’ until finally, and probably quite dramatically, he must accept the call with a slight narcissistic chip resting on his shoulder.
This great fast forward has dumped us off into a Season 4.
In Season 4, things begin to take quite a ‘Game of Thrones’ turn as Moses’ courage triggers the violent pushback from those who hold power. As this Season progresses, we will see things get much worse for the Israelites. Because of this, Moses becomes seen not as the hero, but as a liability escalating the pain and suffering of a people already drowning in despair. But first, the wilderness.
Before Moses goes into the hardened heart of an unjust system, God leads him out to the wilderness where God likewise sends Aaron to meet him. The first destination of the wilderness is a fascinating strategy. If we think about what the next logical step would be in a typical 21st-century series, the hero’s acceptance of his role results in a screen cluttered with men riding horses, holding up weapons, and rallying the troops. Never minding the sickly women seen cowering as they shield dirty, desperate children behind their tattered dresses; this is liberation the newly enlisted soldiers cry; the formulaic violent conquerors holding the keys to an elusive concept called freedom.
In this framework, it is quite ridiculous that the first thing God arranges is for Moses to lollygag out to the wilderness to meet up with a friend. Now, if you want to give God the benefit of the doubt that, as the Creator of the Cosmos, God knows what God is doing, let me offer the unfashionable spoiler alert. To avoid future disappointment, Moses’ first go around with the Pharaoh is pretty much a complete disaster.
Aaron meets Moses in the wilderness. Aaron and Moses leave the wilderness to assemble all the elders of the Israelites. Moses and Aaron then go to the Pharaoh. Standing before the Pharaoh Moses and Aaron say, ‘Look, God was talking to us, and it turns out God needs the Israelites to take some PTO so that they can all celebrate a festival in the wilderness.’
Predictably, the Pharaoh dislikes the thought of losing the labor of these ancient ‘essential workers’. His response is harshly punishing the Hebrew people. The act of asking for time off to connect with the Creator in creation, this ridiculous request for rest and renewal to be prioritized before production and progress, threatens to crumble an economic system founded and dependent on slave labor. The insubordination of even suggesting the Hebrew people are human incites heavier workloads. The audacity of Moses and Aaron leads to a normalizing of a political narrative familiar to us even now, as the Pharaoh declares, “They are lazy, that is why they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.”
This first episode in Season 4 is a tidal wave of reality in which we learn who the Israelites were, what God promised the Israelites long ago, and what the Hebrew people must now resist. It is clear that if the Israelites are to reclaim their identity as Beloved, they must remain indifferent to Egyptian law. Likewise, if the Israelites are to live into their promise of a divine relationship with a land of their own, they must distance themselves from the desecration of Egyptian law, even as the brutal enforcement of this law escalates. As the commentator of our passage this morning explains, “If the Israelites had submitted, there would have been no narrative of liberation, no Passover imagination, no gospel.”
In our current geological age of humanity, the Anthropocene, human activity is understood to be the dominant influence on the climate and environment. Our inability or unwillingness to navigate our dreams beyond the walls of our Pharaohs raises the importance of God’s call to the wilderness as an act of resistance, preparing a people for liberation. This abandoned wilderness, an ecosystem vibrant with the unpredictable and uncontrollable, is where we the power of the Divine swells with promises of reconciliation.
Moses enters the wilderness with the same intentions placed upon all people in every generation; to re-member our place in creation – to re-mind ourselves of possibilities unseen within the confines of violent dominant hierarchal structures. God sends to the wilderness the blind and broken. It is in this wilderness that the Cosmic Christ exposes an eternal, radical revisioning, a dramatic deprogramming, empowering us to see the world as it is and not as the dominant culture has manipulated it to be.
Tara Brach tells a story of two boys who were each given a chicken by their teacher with the instructions to go where no one could see and to kill the chicken. The first boy walked around to the back of the barn, and seeing no one, killed the chicken and quickly brought it back to his teacher. There the teacher and the boy stood watching the second boy wander slowly past the farmhouse, around the barn, and finally past the tall line of ancient oak trees that welcomed him into the thickness of the darkened forest. After some time, the teacher and the boy with him saw the second boy coming out from the forest, walking past the barn and the farmhouse until he the second boy stood in front of them holding the chicken.
The teacher, seeing that the chicken was still resting peacefully in the boy’s arms, asked the boy why the chicken he held was still alive.
The second boy, looking down at the chicken and then back to his teacher, replied, “There was nowhere I could find where the chicken could not see.”
We have been programmed by abusive economic structures and violent systems of dominance to dismiss the created order shaping a cosmos birthed by divine dreaming and creative collaboration. This work in the wilderness removes false narratives that perpetuate the myth of elective belonging. The width of the wilderness expands to hold all of creation while “un-doing the un-wilding’ resulting from sitting in stale offices, consuming modern media, and losing our true connectedness in our commitment to busyness.
Why does God guide Moses to the wilderness? Why does God ensure that Aaron comes to the wilderness to meet him? The answer is in the outcome. It is this personal re-wilding, this strategic practice of walking away from the systems that imprison a planet, that results in an awakening to the interconnectedness of creation. The wilderness opens human eyes to the integrity and worthiness of all creation. The wilderness retells of the human role as sacred caretakers of this creation. In her book, In the Human Age, Diane Ackerman explains that “One of the paradoxes of our age is that we are urban primates who are still adapted to the wilderness, which we long for, and need, at the same time that we’re destroying, building over, and farming all that’s wild.”
Moses enters the wilderness and, in turn, pulls the wilderness into the stiffened, stoic system that has dehumanized people and destroyed their environment. Amid respectable genocide legitimated by public policy, Moses begins his mission at the wild margins to re-member who he is and what God promised the Israelites so that when Moses faces what he is up against, he knows a power more significant than the one he now resists. In the wilderness, Moses sees a promise manifest, even as the systemic representation has yet to express itself.
Season 4, Episode 1 plays out as a potential catalyst for a privileged people of a pandemic. An opportunity to acknowledge our stance at the selectively stable center. A chance to accept the labor that will be required if we are to step into the wilderness long enough to see our answers to our nation’s most urgent problems only fit a few of its members. A possibility for our eyes to be opened to the promise offered to all creation. A promise to be seen, held, and honored in a story with re-wilding at its heart.