Needing a New Exodus

Do you think things are improving, going sideways, or backwards in our world? N.T. Wright’s book The New Testament in Its World is proof-positive that the world has seen worse days than ours, but it also wonderfully lays out God’s plan in Jesus Christ to redeem the world, and set things right. It has been a timely study with all that we have going on. It addresses our COVID-19 ravaged and racially distraught world with mascots changing, statues toppling, and every other kind of turmoil.  It begs the question, “Where do we turn for an expectation that everything is going to be okay?”

 Decades ago we saw impoverished and victimized people find hope in Liberation Theology. The leaders of this movement were primarily in Central and South America, with people like Gustavo Gutierrez, Jose Bonino, and Oscar Romero. The 60’s and 70’s gave birth to similar movements in the US with the work of James Cone and Carol Christ with Black Liberationist Theology and the Feminist Movement. Though some have said that Liberation Theology is a relic of the past, recent events have given it new life.

If Jesus is King, though some might find the notion of royalty offensive, then how does that shape our current theology of God’s Peaceable Kingdom? How do we keep things both orthodox and sensitive to the plight of the oppressed? One way to do that is to use what the earlier practitioners used. They based their whole premise of God taking the side of the poor on the Exodus events. The Exodus became an outright call to revolt and protest in an earlier generation, but what many find most hope-filled about the Exodus is that God does the action, the saving, and the liberation. We’re actors in the drama, but God is the Director.

The Exodus is, therefore, not as much about anarchy and lawlessness, but non-violent witness. If focused on what God does, then it truly represents the original Exodus. The Jews in Egypt didn’t fight back. God did it for them. This has been the most successful model of real liberation. Although it is not natural for any of us to be passive, even Jesus’ “exodus” from the tomb wasn’t by his own hand. God delivered him, and He can deliver us! It is God’s mighty acts in salvation that give us hope. No protest movement or revolt will long live unless God be the Warrior that defeats pharaoh’s armies and parts the waters!

The Exodus events are echoed throughout the entire Bible and human history. Think about how its themes are repeated. Moses is called from childhood to be special as he was saved as an infant from drowning and raised as an adopted child of pharaoh. Jesus certainly had a unique birth through the Virgin Mary. Moses worked many signs and miracles, and so did Jesus. God provided Moses with bread from heaven in the form of “manna,” while Jesus fed the multitudes and called himself “the Bread of Life.” Moses liberated people, and Jesus frees us from sin, death and so much more. Moses led the people through the wilderness to the brink of the Promised Land, but Jesus takes us all the way in! Jesus is Moses on steroids. Jesus delivers and gives real hope that lasts.

There are more similarities than imaginable. For instance, it is perfectly appropriate for, “The Ten Commandments,” with Charlton Heston to be shown at Easter, an Exodus movie that merges with Jesus’ own exodus/departure from the grave. The Jewish deliverance commemorated via the Passover meal is fulfilled in Jesus, as it says in I Corinthians 5:7, “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast!” Jesus becomes the unblemished Passover lamb that was sacrificed to protect us. He is called “the Lamb of God” by John the Baptist (John 1:29), and “the lamb that was slain before the creation of the world” in Revelation 13:8. The connection with Jesus and the Passover meal in Exodus are obvious!

There are also plenty of similarities between Moses and Jesus. One is the comparison of Moses on Mt. Sinai and Jesus on the Mountain of Transfiguration. In their respective mountaintop experiences, we see that Jesus is transfigured and his face and clothes are brighter than lightening, while Moses’ face was shining so brightly when he came down from Sinai that people couldn’t dare look at him. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with him up his mountain, and Moses takes Joshua. For both Moses and Jesus, a cloud covers the mountain, and God speaks from both clouds. The similarities are beyond coincidence.

Another similarity between Moses and Jesus occurs when they do miracles. Pharaoh’s magicians declared in Exodus 7:16-18 that Moses did his signs, “by the finger of God.” Luke 11:20 says that Jesus also did his, like driving out demons, “by the finger of God.” Over and over again, you can hear the words and phrases of the Exodus repeated and magnified in Jesus’ ministry and in all the writings of the New Testament. Words like “redemption,” “redeem,” “deliver,” “deliverance,” “slavery,” and “freedom,” are rooted in the Exodus experience. Maybe the correlation isn’t an accident.

Perhaps the storyline of the entire Bible and all of human history is about God’s rescue mission to give us all a way out, an EXODUS from whatever is attacking us. It’s not a new thought either. People have long clung to Exodus hope when caught in a bind or worse.  We need a Deliverer, and an Exodus. This has been repeated throughout history. For instance, it was Esther who, “for such a time as this,” helped inaugurate the Israelite’s return from exile back to the Promised Land, a mini-Exodus, out of Babylonian and Persian bondage. Just take a look at Nehemiah 9 to see the correlation. Look at Psalms 77 and 78 to encourage you when you feel in bondage. Both the Old and New Testaments use the Exodus as a sign that no matter what God’s people are going through, God isn’t going to let us down.

The Exodus inspired African-American slave spirituals like “Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land. Tell old pharaoh, let my people go!” To be set free, of course, is not just an African-American desire. We all need Jesus to get us out of the mess we’re in. Liberation is the desire for anyone who is overwhelmed by bondage as an oppressed people, those overcome by addictions, depression, health constraints, COVID-19, job losses, financial crisis, and death itself as it lurks at everyone’s door.

Would it make things better if we saw Jesus as the New Moses, a Better Moses, and the Only Everlasting One who can set us free? I think so, especially for such a time as this. We all need a mini or a maxi-Exodus. I pray so! Let it happen, God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thinking Three-Deep & Finding Jesus

I listened this week to good friend and authentic Christ-follower, Jorge Acevedo, speak about discipleship. It started me thinking, “What does discipleship look like?” Gosh, we know it when we see it, don’t we? There’s fruit like love, peace, joy, wisdom, a rich devotional life, high morality, generosity, and a gentle spirit. There’s more to it, of course, but the question ringing in my ears is more personal, “Am I a follower of Jesus ­– sold out, all in, the real deal?”

What I want to know and need to know is whether or not my being and doing are pleasing to God. Forget self satisfaction.  That lasts nanoseconds in the long-term pursuit of joy. Am I pleasing God? That’s the important question of discipleship that should be the thought behind the thought behind the thought behind the thought in my mind! Where does your mind go when you think three-deep?

I want my thoughts to go to Jesus, guiding everything I do and think. As United Methodists we believe that this life in Christ is a work of grace from start to finish. In this process God woos us through prevenient grace, saves us by justifying grace, and redeems our innermost thoughts and outward actions through sanctifying grace. It is not full salvation to single out common or prevenient grace as if it, in and of itself, guarantees universal salvation. Full salvation doesn’t even come, as some would propose, when Jesus justifies us and makes us right with God. That is imputed righteousness. No, full salvation is imparted righteousness as we become more and more like Jesus.

I have been reading about Oscar Romero, a reluctant hero of Liberation Theology and a witness for full salvation. When he was made archbishop of San Salvador in 1977 he was frowned upon by those who had been bucking the government’s co-opting of the church. He was apolitical at best. The government thought he was “safe,” an adjective that can’t describe a real disciple of the Lion of Judah.

Romero wasn’t interested in social holiness and regime change. His passion since his ordination was personal holiness. Romero wrote in his diary as a young priest, “In recent days the Lord has inspired in me a great desire for holiness…. I have been thinking of how far a soul can ascend if it lets itself be possessed entirely by God.”

On the personal holiness scale, Romero was great. However, Jesus’ call for his followers is greater than just on a personal level. Individual piety has to produce tangible fruit! Things changed for Oscar Romero when he saw how right-wing murder squads cannibalized El Salvador’s own people. He spoke out. He took a stand. He quit being safe. He aligned himself with the priests who were ministering to the poor, and he paid a price for his shift from being a follower of the status quo to being a follower of Jesus.

On March 24, 1980 Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated. As he celebrated Jesus’ sacrament using the words, “This is my body given for you… this is my blood shed for you,” a single bullet turned Romero’s own body and blood into communion elements. His body and blood became the body and blood of Jesus. That’s consummate discipleship, the dangerous merger of personal piety and social holiness.

This begs me to ask if I’m willing to do the same thing and take up the cross daily, deny myself, and follow Jesus. I want my life to be like Jesus and Oscar Romero. I want to fulfill the words of Rev. Wesley D. Taylor, United Methodist clergyperson in Tigard, Oregon, “In my discipleship I will be–like David, lifting up mine eyes unto the hills from whence comes my help; like Paul, forgetting those things which are behind and pressing on forward; like Abraham, trusting completely in our God; like Sarah, laughing for joy at God’s great promise; like Enoch, walking in daily fellowship with our Creator; like Moses, choosing life over death; like Jehoshaphat, preparing my heart to seek God; like Mary, loving God so much she birthed our Lord and Savior; like Daniel, able to commune with God all the time; like Job, patient under all circumstances; like Ruth, loyal above all to family; like Caleb and Joshua, refusing to be discouraged even in the face of greater numbers; like Joseph, able to turn away from all evil advances; like Gideon, advancing even though friends be few; like Aaron and Hur, constantly upholding the hands of our spiritual leaders; like Isaiah, consecrated to always do God’s work; like John, leaning upon the example of the Master Teacher; like Andrew, ever striving to lead my family to a closer walk with Christ; like Priscilla, a pioneer for growing churches; like Stephen, manifesting a forgiving spirit toward all people; like the angels, proclaiming the message of peace and good will to all. In my discipleship, I will be such!”

It’s easy to say and hard to do – thinking three-deep and finding Jesus; looking at communion and seeing not just Christ’s body but my own. I want a life that will never ever be the same, in Jesus’ name. Amen.