Friday, May 25, 2012
Moses and Pharaoh
There are many times in life when we are faced with obstacles. Physical obstacles prevent us from driving the well-worn path we have to work each day. Emotional obstacles, such as fear, keep us from taking action on an issue before us. And then there are people who become the obstacles: a boss, a colleague, a politician, a religious leader who, because of the power they wield in this realm, are able to stymy the progress of others.
It's important to note that the power they have is limited to "this realm." That is the case with Pharaoh in the story of the Exodus of the Israelites. Sure, he could order that the Hebrew people must gather their own straw for making bricks, and he could call them, "Lazy!" as they slaved longer and harder hours. But, as we all know from the story, it was God who asserted the ultimate authority and used Moses and Aaron to get the Israelites out of Egypt.
We also know from the story that it was God who was hardening the heart of Pharaoh. Why would God do that? Perhaps the reason lies in Moses' earlier protests when God first appears to him in the burning bush.
If you remember, Moses is a little stunned by this encounter and is not so sure of these instructions he's getting to return to Egypt and tell Pharaoh, "Let my people go." He raises all kinds of reasons why this is an impossible task and why he can not possibly be the right person for the job. "Nobody is going to listen to me. I stammer. How will they believe you sent me?" And with each objection, God assures Moses that He will take care of the listening, the speaking, the believing. Just go do it. And then, as the story goes, God hardens Pharoah's heart. The King of Egypt will not accept the signs that Moses and Aaron perform to prove that they are speaking with authority.... even as the Nile is a bloody mess.
Why? Maybe this hardness of heart was necessary in order to push and shape Moses as a leader. Instead of thinking about Pharaoh as "the bad guy" (which is often how I think of him in this story), he is "the necessary obstacle" that gets Moses past his fears and doubts which allows God to move through Moses. At one point, even God tells Moses: "See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh and Aaron will be your prophet."
I think this idea is interesting, and it tells me something about the ways of the temporal powers that operate in today's world.
Recently, Facebook and the internet has been all lit up over the remarks of a Baptist preacher in North Carolina who suggested that all the "lesbians and queers" be rounded up and put behind an electrified fence a la the Nazi concentration camps of World War II. This weekend, there are plans to protest outside his church. And the Raleigh-based media will have a circus to cover.
I can't help thinking that we have given this man a lot more power by watching the YouTube of his hate-filled sermon than he had even a week before he preached it! While there are those who share the same opinions and attitudes toward the LGBT community, the polls show that he is increasingly becoming part of a screaming minority. Protesting him won't change him or the people who follow him. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Darkness can not drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." What pastors like this man in North Carolina remind us of is that when there is such viciousness coming from a pulpit it is incumbent upon those of us who profess a God who is Love to amplify that love to the world. If there is a lesson to be learned from his horrible tirade it's that we must profess a God of Love early and often, especially to communities that have been so verbally-abused by the church. It was God, through Moses, that ultimately freed the Hebrews and put Pharaoh in his place. It is God, through us, that will ultimately show Christ to be a liberator, not a jailor, to the oppressed.
As we meet the Pharaohs in our lives, may we see them as ones who only hold limited power over us. And may we tap into the river of Love and strength that will mold us into a Moses, no matter what we believe are our limitations.