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Passover: Breaking Through to Freedom
Sunday, March 28 @ 10:30 am - 11:30 am
The story of Passover is one of having the chutzpa to allow for grace. Rev. Furrer on Moses, courage, and the path to liberation, then and now.
how to attend
• To virtually attend, please Zoom in using room number 989 3107 9078.
• To phone into the service, call 669-900-6833, Meeting ID: 989 3107 9078.
For those joining, please mute as soon as you enter the room, so everyone can hear. Please note, the services will be recorded, but at this time, there are no plans to share the recording.
Passover: Breaking Through to Freedom
Last night was the first night of Passover, the Jewish festival commemorating their escape from slavery in Egypt and the first beginning steps on their long road to freedom. I want to take a few minutes this morning looking at the story from a Unitarian Universalist perspective, as myth depicting the transformation of a people, or an individual person, from bondage to freedom—from external, political bondage and from internal, psychological bondage.
Exodus as a Story: It is impossible to discern any actual historical events. No contemporary evidence exists outside the Bible. Plausible reconstructions run the gamut….
Literalist reconstruction = Exodus happened in the 13th century BCE. Pharaoh of the plagues = Rameses II.
Metaphorical reconstruction (Norman Gottwald): The tyranny described reflects Egypt’s political and economic domination of the Land of Canaan in the Late Bronz Age (the “tribal period” of Jewish history). The Conquest of Canaan came from within… the following 200+ years were a period of growing local autonomy, some inspired by the YHWH Cult. The YHWH Cult affirmed three things:
- Radical monotheism “Out of bondage…before any other.”
- The value of covenant.
- Humanity’s utter dependence (exchanging Pharaoh for the Collective Spirit of the People).
Theirs was an oral culture; stories were shared around a campfire…
- “Listen to what the YHWH Spirit did for us!” (e.g., Jerico…)
- Exodus: Exodus 15 is some of the oldest text in the Bible. It was first written down 100s of years after the events it describes.
Exodus as a “mythic paradigm:” (more that one-time event; Exodus is happening all the time.) Myth and ritual go together (myth = the story and ritual = the acting out. In this case, the Seder supper.
- “Egypt” means “narrow place” in Hebrew
- We leave slavery behind when we bind together with like-minded, imaginative people for creative purposes.
- Of course, there’s typically a long time in the wilderness before freedom is realized.
William Wilberforce (“Amazing Grace” 2006 movie starring the late Albert Finny). It’s a story about the people who worked together to ban the slave trade throughout the British Empire.
1780s Conversion (personal crossing of the Red Sea). Then Wilberforce is recruited to the abolitionist cause. He introduces legislation for twenty years, generating and sustaining the movement.
Om March 25, 1807 (214 years ago last Thursday) the Act banning slavery passed. Wilberforce’s health suffered, he was maligned, he became addicted. But he kept at it and eventually led his people out of the wilderness.
Martin Luther King was another modern liberator.
- 1965-’67: Dr. King began to speak about the need for fundamental changes in the political and economic life of our nation. He also began questioning the war in Viet Nam, the whole American Empire, and the militarism that sustained it.
- ‘67-’68: He voiced opposition to the war and of supporting the redistribution of our resources to correct economic injustice. In his famous Riverside Church sermon (preached 54 years ago this week) Dr. King elaborated: from Viet Nam to Latin America, he said, the United States was “on the wrong side of a world revolution.” He questioned “our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America,” and asked why the U.S. was suppressing revolutions “of shirtless and barefoot people” in the Third World, instead of supporting them.
- In 1968 King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized the “Poor People’s Campaign” to address issues of economic justice.
- Martin Luther King’s vision was of a renewed America, one (as he put it) “that lives up to its creed” and maintains its covenant with the poor and marginalized.
- This is how, in the last years of his life, Martin Luther King grew to understand FREEDOM. He cast the vision, but he never saw it actualized. He was killed, but the vision lives.
As a myth, Exodus isn’t about culture heroes only (Moses, William Wliberforce, Martin King and the like). It’s about the hero inside everyone.
Mythic events are paradigmatic events; Exodus is about liberating yourself. Myths are a lens through which we can understand and explain political events, yes, but even more, they’re a lens through which to understand oneself. That is, myths describe in poetic/emotional language internal events and passages in all of our lives.
Consider in my own life, and my own first mythic escape from Egypt.…
- Late June 1972. “Out of college, money spent…”
- Three days in Cleveland… “Get a job!” Call from a friend in NYC Central Brooklyn Model Cities
- Meanwhile, Hurricane Agnes
Got a ride from my mother out to the corner of I-271 and US Rte. 422:
POURING RAIN – sopping wet.
- Ride: “help out the next guy!” 13 rides to Jeannine’s front door.
IT’S UP TO EACH OF US, personally, to cross the Red Sea within if we ever want to get beyond our conventional programming—programming that can turn a person into a slave. It looks like we’ll drown, but it always looks that way. And getting through the flood is only the beginning. It’s terrifying, but that’s the truth about freedom.
Moreover, freedom leads to life (vitality, creativity). And freedom also leads to peace (because we have each other—the meaning of covenant. And freedom leads to justice. William Wilberforce and Martin Luther King, Jr. both led their people—all people—out of bondage by affirming universalism. The Abolition and Civil Rights Movement were moral crusades for freedom and justice. Once we lose that moral high ground, all we have is a power struggle, which has never been a persuasive means for the weaker to deal with the stronger.
But with a commitment to life, and one another, and to justice, we are free. Or on our way to freedom, at any rate, arm in arm, struggling through the wilderness with our eyes on freedom.
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I want to make one more point. What, I want to ask, does freedom asks of us? Responsibility. That is, response ability. The ability to respond to the exigencies of the moment. The ability to be present. With the clear focus and deft flexibility necessary to help the situation. And we have such a situation before us right now, today, one that requires the response ability of everyone in this Zoom Room: our Mission Fund Drive.
The novel coronavirus has done a number on institutions of all kinds. My first wife’s alma mater, Mills College in Oakland, has folded, and many houses of worship of are teetering. ESUC is not exactly teetering, but we are in need of everyone’s increased generosity this year. Holly House, though a valuable asset, remains unsold and, even when that does happen, the funds from its sale will be months away. Rentals are down and will remain so until folks go back to work and school. That leaves us two sources of increased income: drawing from the Endowment Fund, and more money from pledges.
Ironically, during a pandemic that has devastated our economy and laid millions off from work, the stock market continues its steady assent, upwards now above 33,000 points. We take a little over $40,000 out every year, but betting on growth and anticipating the sale of Holly House, we have drawn more than that over the last few years. And since the market continues to grow so steadily, we can continue to draw from the Endowment, but a more response – able response, it seems to me, would be to also—this year—dig deep. The pandemic will soon lessen. More and different people will begin to come visit us on our beautiful campus and join in with our progressive and spiritual advance.
The major health crisis and social turmoil of the last year has made it clear: we need to cross the Red Sea (and with that huge container ship blocking the Suez Canal, those who disapprove of liberal religion may well be distracted as we scamper across) and, guided by our covenant, choose freedom. Hard as it can be. Painful sometimes. But free.
Free religion is not a free–for–all. It requires, always, order and orchestration. It requires a willingness to risk for a reasonable chance at success. And most of all, it requires members able to respond to what is happening now. Which in our case this month is the Mission Fund Drive, which wraps up in three days. Please fill out and send in your pledge card. The more of you who do so, the less time we will spend wandering in the desert and the sooner we will have passed over into a new, fully enshrined Canaan.
So may it be. Amen. And Alleluia!