Pharaoh and the problem of human worth. Part 4

This concludes this week’s series. Look for our next series starting next Monday!

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Resolution

How does this show itself?

As we think about Pharaoh, we see that this manifested itself in very ugly, and brutal ways; slavery, and death.

And as we take some time now to reflect on our own lives, and examine our own hearts, I can almost guarantee that it will not be that obvious.

But if we are honest, if we are genuine, if we are real with ourselves, we can begin to see these roots of racism and division within our own hearts.

This can be a million different things.

We scoff when someone talks about being the victim of racism.

We cringe when we hear other languages spoken in our midst.

We roll our eyes when we hear another cultures music.

Do we find ourselves slipping into racial stereotypes? Latinos are lazy, African-americans are angry…etc…etc?

And the hard part is that we are bombarded with these images on a daily basis. Think about it for a second.

“Great, white hero.” “Last Samurai, Dances with wolves, Freedom Writers…etc”

Gang members are nearly always minorities.

Villains are almost always middle-eastern, or of another culture.

There was even a recent debate on a major News Station about the Whiteness of Jesus and Santa Clause.

Through our media, through our news shows, and through our relationships, we are being taught that one group of people is more important than another.

And it’s not just that we are more important, but that they cannot be trusted, and must be removed or used for our own purposes.

Racial Inequality is…

It is this belief of racial or economic superiority that God despises.

It is, at it’s most basic level, evil.

We were created to be one. To live among one another, to encourage one another, and support one another. In scripture, we are commanded to offer hospitality to those who we disagree with, and are commanded to treat those from outside our borders as our brothers.

In the New Testament, the writer, Paul, broke down the barriers that divide; no more are there Jews, Gentiles, slaves, free, Americans, Mexicans, South Africans, British, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Mongolian, Sudanese, Egyptian, Iraqi, Greek, French, Etheopian, Brazilian, or Colombian.

We are all one. Brothers and sisters. We are all broken, but we are all welcomed and are offered transformation.

And we are all expected to live this same sense of communal one-ness.

This one-ness means that we are to be disgusted when we witness acts of economic, or racial profiling.

When another is taken advantage of, it is our responsibility to fight for our brothers and our sisters.

Ultimately it is an issue of power

Ultimately, this issue comes down to being an issue of power. Are we willing to relinquish our power and our desire to be the best or the greatest? Can we choose to fight against ethnocentrism, and can we choose to live as Christ, laying down our preferences and our pride?

If we are dedicated to living out a Kingdom life, and following the Kingdom of God, we aren’t given an option. This is a Kingdom of God requirement.

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Second Fiddle: Pharaoh and the problem of human worth. Part 3

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Tension

We like those like us

As people we like to feel comfortable, don’t we? And in our desire for comfort, we are drawn to those who look like us, dress like us, talk like us, enjoy similar music as we do, and so on.

This is how it has been for a long time. There becomes this culture of necessitating protection for “my people” against “those people.” We fight for this, and somewhere along the line, we turn “those people” into something not human.

The easy example for this would be The Holocaust, or Apartheid. But it becomes too easy when we only talk about other countries and about their problems. What about us? What about our country? What about you and me?

We could talk about the Civil Rights movement and about the early days with slavery.

We could talk about, even further back, the ways in which early settlers treated the Native Americans.

But that is also too easy. That pushes off responsibility on our forefathers, or our ancestors. It wasn’t our fault, was it?

How are we treating those different than us today?

All it takes is 5 minutes on any news station and we begin to read and hear stories of how people treat others who are different than themselves.

In College, I knew a police officer (who didn’t participate in this practice) who was taught, unofficially, to racially profile minorities- specifically African-Americans and Latinos.

I come from a city that is incredibly divided by race and economic status. It is so bad that BBC, the British news network, even did an investigative story based on one specific street- Delmar- that divides millionaires from slums. 40 feet of street. That’s it.

This feeling of racial superiority, mistrust, or resentment is everywhere.

As someone who is new to Napa, while writing this sermon, I spent some time reading the racial history of this city…it’s as broken as anywhere. There were KKK ralleys attended by thousands, as well as the burning of Napa Valley china towns.

There is a thread that so easily weaves through the minds, hearts, and words of everyone, and those words speak a dark lie.

This lie is rarely named, but it’s influence can be found throughout our past, our present, and threatens our future.

This lie whispers in our ear when we look at people who are different than us, who speak differently than us, and who believe differently than us. It tells us we can’t trust them. It tells us that they aren’t quite human. That they aren’t worth quite as much as you are me.

We watch them have babies with disgust, and wonder why they can’t control themselves.

They speak in their native tongue, and wonder why they can’t learn our language.

They apply for government programs and we immediately assume they are leaches on the system.

Their lives, the worth and their humanity becomes tied up in how they are different than you or me.

It isn’t only to protect Israel

God’s anger at the care of foreigners wasn’t limited only to when nations abused his people.

You can see his frustration and anger rise when Israel, generations later, choose to repeat history and systematically abuse and neglect those who “aren’t from around here.”

We see, over and over, for us to care for those who are different. When they are free, God reminds Israel to care for the foreigner because they, too, were foreigners once.

He tells them that if a foreigner resides among you then they must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

God is telling Israel. Live differently. Love everyone because they are my creation just as you are my creation.

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Second Fiddle: Pharaoh and the problem of human worth. Part 2

This is part 2, of a four-part series looking at old Bible stories in new ways.  This week, we’re looking at Egypt, pharaoh, and who is worthy of love. Check out week 1 here.

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Problem

Israel’s past with Egypt

It is impossible to begin this passage without remembering how the first arrived to be residents in Egypt.

We are reminded stories of Joseph, his mult-colored coat. We’re reminded of how his trust in God, and his dedication to him, allowed him to prove his worth to another Pharaoh, who elevated Joseph to the rank of 2nd in command.

This proved a divine appointment when a famine swept the homeland of his youth. Until this point, Joseph had used his influence to ensure Egypt had stored food for a time of famine, and because of his leadership, when famine happened, Egypt was prepared.

It was through a great story of forgiveness that Joseph’s family (the very earliest of a group of people who would eventually become the nation of Israel) was invited to come and live in Israel.

Israel grew…

And grew. And grew. And eventually, the outgrew the area of Egypt they had been given to live.

As is natural, generations were born, the original generation of Egyptians and Israelites, including Joseph and the original Pharaoh, eventually passed away. And with the passing of this generation, we see a new generation rise to power.

A new pharaoh filled with new ideas.

A Pharaoh obviously afraid and feeling threatened.

Before this Pharaoh’s own eyes, he is watching a group of foreigners- non Egyptians- growing, and growing, and growing.

And he immediately begins to be filled with fear and dread over what that might mean for him and his kingdom.

And in this fear, he takes drastic steps to correct what he sees as a very big problem.

He puts the early Israelites under slave labor, and appoints ruthless and cruel men to ensure they are “hitting their quota.” They were probably forced into building projects, digging irrigation channels, or other jobs of grueling labor.

When the Pharaoh sees that this isn’t changing anything, he takes it a step further, he mandates that all males born to Israelite women are to be thrown into the Nile. If he cannot dwindle their numbers through hard labor, he will remove half the equation in terms of reproduction.

What is going on here?

If you take a moment, forget that Israel is God’s chosen people, and just put yourselves in the shoes of the Pharaoh, you begin to see what he is feeling and thinking. And while you cannot justify slavery and murder, you begin to understand where the man is coming from, right?

In a time when leaders are regularly usurped or over thrown, kings, pharaohs and leaders had to be vigilant and ruthless if they wanted to maintain power and control.

And as he takes a look at the land he rules, and the people who serve him, he sees a glaring threat to all he holds to be important; a group of people who don’t look like him, act like him, talk like him and come from the same place as him.

While these foreigners have been a positive part of his society up to that point, there was no promise that should they continue to grow, another nation wouldn’t gain their allegiance and use them to overthrow his rule…or that they would move away, establish a new country, and eventually invade and conquer him.

In this man, and in this point of the story, we see a man afraid of losing control. We see a ruler dedicated to preserving life as he saw fit. We see a man who valued complete obedience and refused to see those different from him as human beings.

These foreigners were only here to serve me. They cannot be trusted. They must be controlled at all costs.

And it was in this progression that he finds himself willing to slaughter the lives of thousands of innocent newborns.

It begins and ends with how he saw those different from himself.

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Second Fiddle: Pharaoh and the problem of human worth

At my church, we’ve begun a sermon series focused on taking a look at popular stories throughout the Bible, and looking at them through the eyes of secondary Characters. We are doing this because, for many of us, we’ve heard these accounts so many times that we have lost the awe-factor in the narrative. This series is our attempt to rediscover that awe. Because of the length of each post, I’ll be breaking them down into smaller, more manageable sections that will post each day. I look forward to hearing your responses!

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Intro

What we’ll be studying

This week we’re kicking off a new sermon series that I’m very excited to work through. With that, I want to start this morning with a question.

How many of you have spent a large portion of your life in, or around, church?

When you read the Bible, and you read, most of the major stories are very familiar to you. Sure, there are stories that you can always find new and exciting, but, if the Bible story standards were people, you would be on first name basis with them. Is that most of you?

That’s me. I was born the son of a pastor, grew up in Sunday School and Vacation Bible school, went to Christian Schools all my life, and graduated with a degree in Ministry.

My life has revolved around, in some way-shape-or-form, around the stories in the Bible.

Where once stories of Egyptian captivity, or sleep-overs with lions created excitement and intrigue, they become very dull and predictable.

But the Bible, and the stories, lessons and invitations are anything BUT dull and boring. This sermon series is all about re-discovering the excitement and intrigue in the pages of the Bible.

Today, we’ll be looking at the famous story of Israel and their captivity in Egypt.

We’ll be reading from Exodus 1:1-16

These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family: Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah; Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy[a] in all; Joseph was already in Egypt.

Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.

Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”

11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.”

Traditional Lesson

Nearly always, when studying and reading this passage, it is used as a set up for Moses, and for the coming plagues and exodus of the Israelites. It’s a verse usually designated for talking about the perceived silence of God, and how when we call on him and he seems to not hear, he is always at work…even if we cannot see or feel it.

All are very beautiful and true.

Today

Today, however, we’re going to take our focus and our attention away from the Israelites and away from the coming of Moses and their miraculous freedom, and instead turn our attention towards this new Pharaoh.

In this passage, we see a new Pharaoh bent on ushering in a new dynasty in the land of Egypt. The old ways are gone, and the new ways are coming whether they wanted them or not.

Join us tomorrow as we delve deeper into this story.

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A Prayer

road

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I’m going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
And the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that my desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire
in all that I am doing.
And I know that if I do this,
you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death,
I will not fear, for you are ever with me
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.

-Thomas Merton

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Survey about Prayer

At the church I pastor, we’re working through a sermon series wrestling with prayer, and the realities, frustrations, and difficulties we face day-to-day basis. To help get some feedback, I have created a short survey about prayer. It will take about 2 minutes of your time, and is completely private. I encourage you to take a moment and answer a few of the questions. I will, as usual, continue posting my sermons here so that you might see the results of the survey.

Interested? Click here to take the survey.

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Stories Jesus Told: Parable of the Talents

Intro

Today we’ll be wrapping up our study on the parables that Jesus taught. In this series we’ve talked about several stories, all examples used by Jesus, that teach us what it means to live lives in the Kingdom of God.

This week, we’ll wrap up by talking about another common parable; the parable of the talents.

Let’s begin by reading from Matthew 25:14-30.

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more.

17 So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18 But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 22 “The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 24 “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.

25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 ” ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29 For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Problem

So what’s going on here?

In this story, like the parable of the unforgiving servant which we studied a few weeks ago, this involves a very wealthy man, and 3 of his highest ranking servants. While the story describes these men as servants, these would be well-known and highly trusted individuals…they would have to be for this rich business man to entrust them with his business and life.

These were men who, sure, worked for another, but they were in many ways, shareholders alongside the business man. Most commentaries mentioned the fact that these men would have reaped benefits from their master turning profits. They had a direct tie to the success or failure of the business.

Money, money, money

Now, in this story, we watch as this business man gave to each man a number of talents. To gain a measure of scope in this story, it’s important to know how much money we’re dealing with.

It’s difficult to really nail down how much a talent would be work today. One of the more reliable ways people have attempted to find a currency exchange rate is by figuring that 1 talent was worth about 6,000 denarii.

Maybe you’re thinking, no, that doesn’t really help at all!

But I would remind you that if you remember, we learned a few weeks ago that a denarii was worth roughly a days wages. So, when you do the math, you come to 1 talent equaling, roughly, 300,000 dollars. Quite a large bit of cash!

Money to the 3 servants

So, we watch as the rich man gives 5 talents, or ($1.5 million) to the first servant.

To the second, we watch him give 2 talents ($600,000).

And to the third we watch him give 1 talent ($300,000).

I think the first thing we can safely say is that this rich man, regardless of how much he gave to one man or the other, invested a great deal into each of these servants. Right?

One many point of emphasis in this story is that not every man is given the same amount. There was probably some wisdom in how the rich man divvied up his money.

There is the old proverb that say, “to those whom much is given, much is expected.”

This, at least, on the surface, seems to hold true in this story, as well. Chances are, the recipient of the 5 talents had proved himself to be true and worthy.

The master, then, left to go on an extended trip. He was to be gone a very long time. Many believe that Jesus was hinting here about the fact that he was soon to ascend into heaven, (going on a journey) to return after a long, yet unspecified time.

So, with the master having left, let’s take a look at how the servants performed.

The actions of the servants

1st servant

The first servant, as we remember, was given 1.5 million, or 5 talents, and he immediately goes out, puts the money to work, and doubles his money, netting him a cool 3 million.

2nd servant

The second servant, in like-fashion to the first, puts his money to work and doubles his income. He now has 1.2 million to show for his efforts.

3rd servant

The third servant, possibly more timid, afraid, or probably lazy, forgoes investing the money. He instead takes the money, buries it, and (as I like to imagine) draws a treasure map with “X” marking the spot.

He did this, some speculate, because the banks of the day were not reliable or trustworthy. In other words, it was safer to bury the money instead invest.

What did they do with their money?

When I read this story early on in my life, I think I always had an image in my mind of these servants going out and investing this money in the “stock market” or in a bank of some kind.

But what this passage is actually saying is that these men took the money, viewing it as “seed money” and started up a new business venture. They took what was entrusted to them, acted on a dream or passion of theirs and turned the investment into a profit.

Sure, it was a risk, but they used what was given to them to create something new, exciting and ultimately profitable.

So, in this story we witness 2 gain financial returns, and one lazily keeps the same amount.

The master returns

As the story carries on, the master returns and comes to settle accounts with the 3 servants. He wants to know what has happened, how they fared, and to receive the money that he is owned.

1st servant reports

He first talks with the servants he had given 5 talents to, and he sees that this servant doubled his money. The master is extremely pleased. He responds by saying that he is a good and faithful servant.

Master responds

He then tells the servant that he was faithful with the little things, and thus will be entrusted with more. He is then invited to come and share in his masters happiness.

2nd servant reports and master responds

He then talks with the second servant, who has, like the first servant, doubled the money he was given. The master, in the same way as with the first, is thrilled. He responds the very same way. He praises the faithfulness of the servant, tells him that he will now be trusted with more, and then invites him to come share in the master’s happiness. (More on what this means in a minute)

3rd servant reports

The final servant, as you would expect, didn’t have quite as rosie an outcome. As if earning the master nothing wasn’t bad enough, he reports by saying (my paraphrase), “I knew you were a hard man, harvesting where you haven’t sown, and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed.”

Basically, this servant is saying, “nope- I didn’t earn you money. I was scared because you’re a mean guy. A mean guy who doesn’t tolerate failure, and who takes from places he has no right to take from.”

Nothing like coating your failures in sugar, eh?

Masters Response

And I quote: “You wicked, lazy servant.”

Nice.

He then takes the money, and he gives it to the man who was given the 5 talents and earned 5 more.

Tension

What problem is Jesus addressing in this story?

This is actually a trick question because Jesus is addressing TWO!

First: To fail to do good with what we’ve been entrusted with is a grievous sin.

Maybe you’re asking yourself, “What has been entrusted with me?”

Good news

We’ve been given a lot, haven’t we? Whether that gift is the truth we hold on to, the truth that we are invited to belong to the Kingdom of God, and the truth that this belonging will set us free, or whether that truth is that we are forgiven, we are part of something very, very good. Aren’t we?

Good life

In the same way, we are all in different places on the economic scale. Some of us make more than others. That’s normal. But, no matter our situation, no matter how tight our finances are, we are ALL better off than the majority of the world. The stresses in our life are, very rarely, life threatening. We know that, should we lose our job, we have a system to fall back on until we get back on our feet. The chance of us starving to death is slim to none.

This isn’t the case for everyone.

So we are blessed with the good news, and we are blessed with a good life.

One final blessing: Talents

Each one of us has been given gifts. Many of these gifts are special or unique to us. We are passionate about something. When we talk about it, our eyes light up.

Actually, there is some linguistic speculation that the English word, Talent, finds its roots in this story. The basis being that we are given a gift, or a talent, and we are now expected to “use it or lose it.”

I want to ask you this: Are you using the talents God has given you?

More specifically:

Are you sharing the good news, are you generous with your good life, and are you using those special talents that God has given you?

Second: We must not become passive in our watchfulness

We are a people looking towards the second coming of Christ.

We sing songs about how he will return one day, and if you just google “second coming,” you will find thousands and thousands of search engine hits about how that day is coming. And people trying to name that date are a dime a dozen…for example we all remember…Harold Camping.

Camping claimed that the rapture would be on May 21, 2011 followed by the end of the world on October 21 of the same year. Camping wrote “Adam when?” and claimed the Biblical calendar meshes with the secular and is accurate from 11,013 BC–2011 AD.

And then there was Ronald Weinland.

Weinland predicted Jesus would return on September 29, 2011. When his prediction failed to come true he moved the date of Jesus return to May 27, 2012. When that prediction failed he then moved the date to May 18, 2013 claiming that “a day with God is as a year” giving himself another year for his prophecy to take place. Weinland was convicted of tax evasion in 2012 and sentenced to 3 1/2 years in federal prison.

Yikes.

The reality is that we can become so focused on wanting Jesus to come back, so focused on not messing up in the event that today is the day, that we fail to go out and work at investing the talents he’s given us.

In other words, we’re so afraid of failing, that we never try.

Or, maybe we’re afraid of succeeding, and so we don’t try.

Or, maybe we just don’t much feel like trying.

It doesn’t matter the reason. We’re told that if we don’t put our talents to work, and if we don’t invest what God has given us (life, faith, good news, gifts…etc), then we are in danger of being cast out of his sight and into eternal darkness.

I know what you’re thinking, and yes…it really is that big of a deal!

Resolution

Good and faithful

If there I something I know, it’s that it isn’t easy to fail. It’s scary to take off and try to do something and know that there are no safeguards, and nothing keeping this newly planted effort from becoming a major, and very public failure.

And, considering the fact that our image of God is so often the image of our father, or of an influential pastor or mentor…we can begin to fear letting God down.

Maybe you have always been taught that failure is unacceptable.

Notice, though, what Jesus commends the first two servants for.

He said they are good and faithful. HE doesn’t say they are the most talented. He doesn’t say they are the wealthiest. He doesn’t say they are the most charismatic or that they are the most influential.

He commends them for being faithful with what they were given.

And its in that faithfulness that they are rewarded.

This isn’t a matter based on intellect. It’s based on the heart.

Take away

Are you investing the talents given to you?

Are you sharing the good news?

Are you investing your gifts in others.

Are you investing your finances.

Are you investing your time?

I can promise this wont be convenient, but it is a vital part of the kingdom life.

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