Thursday, August 30, 2007

Sermon Struggles

This week I preaching on Exodus 15: 1 - 21, it's the song sung after the Lord delivered Israel through the Yom Suph (Sea of Reeds, traditionally, the Red Sea but who knows). It's a great passage, and one of the most important moments in the story of Israel's experience of the Lord's presence - and yet I find myself strangely dreading preaching on it this Sunday.

Why is that? Largely it's because as a group of Middle-Class Americans Central Baptist (myself at the top of the list) doesn't really approach the song in the way that it was meant to be approached. The Israelites in the narrative were a group of slaves who had just narrowly been delivered from the super-power of the day (Egypt) by the Lord's hand. Their celebration of the Lord's great strength wasn't so much a warning to the rest of the region that Israel was going to kick all their butts - but was more a celebration of the strength of the Lord to save. It was a cause for hope, that God was going to fulfill the promises God had made - and a proclamation that the relationship between Israel and the Lord was one worth celebrating.

When people who currently have power sing songs like this, however, the meaning becomes transmogrified. Instead of being a celebration that we are privileged to be under the Lord's wondrous protection it shifts to the dangerous assumption that "God is on our side." Terrible things happen when people begin to sing about the power of the Lord with the unspoken belief that God will be there to smite out enemies "on demand." Such is the source of religious wars, and political campaigns (both in the secular political sphere and in churches) in which the humanity of the other side is ignored because "God is with us." As I'm preaching to a group of people who have a measure power (economic if not political), I'm going to be hard-pressed to keep the focus on hope rather than arrogant triumphalism.

In my musings on this passage, I started to wonder if perhaps this is why Evangelicalism™ is so adamant that they are an oppressed minority. Perhaps there's still a seed in the back of Evangelicalism™ that remembers that God is not on "our side" and can't be manipulated by the power-play politics we try to appease God with. If Evangelicals™ are oppressed, after all, then we can't be held responsible for what happens to our enemies - God' sweeping his arm over them not us (no matter what it might look like, what with all the weapon sales, lobbying efforts, and propaganda campaigns). A thought, and a passage that gives me great hope, and scares the daylights out of me. Ought to be a fun sermon I guess.

1 comment:

Calvin said...

Two thoughts.

First, I agree with you about hope. As Christians in America we often jump past hope to some kind of entitlement. We think God will do exactly what we want, when we want. But, this isn't really a new thing. Israel ended up doing the exact same thing. They figured God was on their side, regardless of if they actually worshiped him alone, etc, etc

Second, that's an interesting thought on Evangelicalism™. I don't know if I really want to give them that much credit - to have some kind of unconscious whatever. But, it's possible. Regardless, the fact remains that they do want to believe themselves an oppressed minority. I had that very discussion with someone from my church recently.