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Recent Sermons

The Road to Freedom


Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
September 17, 2017

"Do you know where you're going to?
Do you like the things that life is showing you?
Where are you going to? Do you know?" (Theme from the movie "Mahogony" with Diana Ross,1975, ‎Michael Masser‎, ‎Gerald Goffin)

Are we on The Road to Freedom, as my sermon title claims? What makes you feel free? And what do we experience as oppressive? Who is Pharaoh in our lives? Is there an internal task master you struggle to serve or ignore? Are there challenges in your work or in your experience of      the outer world that seem to demand too much of you? Have you forgotten how to relax, how to fully live?

We can hear the story of Moses' parting of the sea on many levels. It is the iconic story of the liberation of a people from bondage. On that level it is political and powerful. Martin Luther King preached a poignant sermon on it in 1954. He saw the drowning of pharaoh's army as “the Death of Evil upon the       Seashore.” He called out the evils any could see in his own time: greed and war, people in high places willing to sacrifice truth on the altars of self-interest. He saw the Red Sea open in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education that ended "separate but equal schools." that year!
It is comforting to see the destruction of the oppressor when your own oppression is so clear. But it has the danger of celebrating the Myth of Redemptive Violence. From children's cartoons to nearly all our action movies, we have been taught that the good guys win and the bad guys get what they deserve. Our scriptures are full of examples and the stories of Moses' celebrating Passover to the destruction of Pharaoh's army are among them.

For the people of Israel the story of the escape from bondage in Egypt represented the birth of a nation. Jewish scholars now describe the parting of the Red (or Reed) Sea as symbolic of passing through the waters of the birth canal. A new life for the Hebrew people comes through the waters of         creation, the Mother's liberation that begins the journey to the promised land.

They pass through on "dry land" ~ There are two Hebrew words for “dry land” used in this passage. One is yabbashah. that represents the miracle God performed at the          Red Sea as well as God’s work in creation and the          people’s miraculous crossing of the Jordan River when they enter the land of promise. But another word for dry land, charabah, is also used. It means to dry up or be in ruins. It frequently names the waste and desolation that follows  warfare, judgment, and destruction.

Images of Dry Land and Floods are particularly visceral for us today. We are remembering all those in the path of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. We know that the winds and the rains did not discriminate between those who we might judge as good or as evil. The terrible religious demigods who claimed these floods were a             punishment from God hold no influence on us. Although we might lift up the reality that human choices have caused the climate changes that make these storms more likely and more powerful.
We are walking on dry land today. Is it yabbasha or charabah? Are we moving toward Freedom or are we trying to "Escape From          Freedom"? Erich Fromm's ground-breaking study of the human tendency to want others to be responsible for our lives was published in1941. I wrote a year-long study on it in Philosophy class during college. The questions it raised for me then continue to haunt me now. Fromm believed "that modern humanity, freed from the bonds of pre-individualistic society, which simultaneously gave us security and limited us, has not gained freedom in the positive sense of the realization of the individual self; that is, the expression of our intellectual, emotional and sensuous potentialities. Freedom, though it has brought independence and rationality, has made us isolated and, thereby, anxious and powerless. This isolation is unbearable and the alternatives we are confronted with are either to escape from the burden of this freedom into new dependencies and submission, or to advance to the full realization of positive freedom which is based upon the uniqueness and individuality of humanity."

He saw Germany's authoritarian regime, but also America's tendency toward corporate conformity as prime examples. But Germany has learned the terrible lesson of its Nazi past. Today it has taken in 1.8 million refugees in the face of this crisis in our world where currently over 65 million people have been forced from their homes. 22.5 million of them are refugees from war and genocide. Over 18 million of them are children.

Are we experiencing God's miraculous presence and guidance these days? Are we learning to listen, to pray, to trust, to step out in faith? Or are we falling into despair?
One of the gifts, for me, in being a part of this community, is an assurance that we are not looking for someone outside ourselves to allow us to "escape from the burden of our freedom." But anxiety and fear still haunt us. The dry land that leads to warfare, judgment and destruction is all around us.
Two weeks ago I helped plan a vigil in reaction to the terrible events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Last week I stood with many of you at a vigil for DACA. On Friday I attended an event in remembrance of Jews from a small town in Germany who were all killed in the Holocaust. My dear friend Miriam Zimmerman had organized the event for her students in the Holocaust History class but the wider community was invited. Miriam spoke briefly at the vigil in response to Charlottesville and admitted she wasn't sure she could assure her current students that events now were nothing like Nazi Germany.

This Friday she spoke to that same issue again, only this time she assured us all that because we are standing against hatred, speaking out against the few who would promote violence, she now knows she can tell her students, America is nothing like Nazi Germany. It was the people there who turned in their neighbors and participated in the violence. We are the people now who will stand with our neighbors and do all that we can to help.

Jesus was raised on the stories of Moses. He knew them by heart. His life was understood by his followers as a fulfillment of Moses' calling. He too went into exile as an infant in Egypt to escape the persecution of Herod (a different pharaoh). He too returned with a calling not unlike Moses' at the burning bush. He too went through the waters, his baptism in the Jordan, to begin his ministry. He too was led into the wilderness as Moses and the people of Israel will soon be led into the wilderness. He too found meaning in Passover observances as he asked his                      disciples to remember him as they had remembered that ancient Passover of liberation from slavery.
But Jesus spoke of loving our enemies ~ perhaps the biggest challenge of being followers of His Way. He understood his calling as a fulfillment of the call of the prophets before him, to remember God has a preference for those in need, those who are oppressed, those who are hungry, in need of shelter, the least of these in our world; to remember that we are never alone, that God's comforter, the Holy Spirit longs to encourage, guide and shelter us.

We are walking on dry land. We pray that it is the dry land of liberation. With the teachings of Jesus and the comfort of the Holy Spirit to guide us, we can make it to the promised land. But there is work to do. There is courage to be called on. There is freedom to be claimed in each moment so that we are sustained for the journey.       
We cannot do this work alone. We cannot do it without the willingness to grow and change. We must call on the freedom that the truth brings ("You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." But first it may make you miserable.
During the floods and as the waters have subsided in Texas and Florida we have seen people working side by side from every walk of life, letting go of status and creed, race and prejudice, to rescue, repair and rebuild. This is what we hope our world and all God's people can choose to to do. This is what we choose to do! May it be so!

May it be so.Can I get an Amen?