(Lead me Lord,)
So that I do not turn back to old gods who will not bless me.
In the book of Exodus we are given a story that sadly seems to be repeated over and over with each new generation. We are trapped in an economic system which disproportionally sends all the profits to the top of the pyramid and we are left with all the trouble and suffering of brick-making in a system that does not love us and will not bless us. We sense in our bones that the system is not just, but it is the only system we and our parents can remember. So we make our bricks and take our beatings; make our bricks and gather our own straw and discover that even then the empire beats us. It is a hope-destroying and despair-inviting situation.
Into the brickyards of Pharaoh’s pyramid-scheme comes Moses — a prophet sent from God to tell us that we do not have to live like that. There is a better life which God wants to give us — a life so fulfilling and generative that the only way to describe it is to say that God wants to give us “a land of milk and honey.” So, after much convincing, we set out with Moses in search of our promised land. We leave Egypt keenly aware that there is no future for us there. We want with all our hearts to go to a place where we will experience justice and economic equity, so we set off with Moses brimming with hope.
In the book of Exodus we are rescued by God in chapter 14, and we spend the entirety of chapter 15 singing God’s praises as the one who has triumphed gloriously over Pharaoh and his army. Guess how many verses into chapter 16 we make it before we begin complaining?
. . . wait for it . . . One.
The second verse of chapter 16 marks the beginning of our nostalgia for Egypt and the life we knew before. We say:
“If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
This is the dilemma for people of faith. We can want the new life God offers sincerely, but when it comes to doing what is required to leave Egypt and begin anew in the wilderness with God, we discover that we are double-minded. Egypt, as it turns out, is not without its enticements. So we settle into a sort of half-life which will never make good on its promises and we return to our divided loyalties to old gods who we know wont bless us, but who we just cannot seem to abandon. A familiar half-life seems better to us than the wild adventure of going with God to a new life in a place unknown.
Some years ago I was in a Cistercian monastery and I went for spiritual guidance. The sagacious monk who sat with me for nearly an hour was father Christian and he was 93 years old at the time. After listening to me describe my complicated and unsatisfying life for nearly an hour he blessed me, got up to leave, and as he got to the door he turned around as if he had just then finally stumbled on what the Spirit was wanting to say to me and with compassion in his expression he said to me, “You know, your affluence will not make you happy . . . but it just might keep you comfortably in your unhappiness.” With that he left the room and left me to wonder about my affluence and my deep desire to find a more satisfying life, and to wonder how those two were related.
As we journey with God and say this pilgrim’s prayer we are asking that God lead us so that we do not turn back to old gods who will not bless us. Lent is a season in which we try to expose all of the false allegiances which rule our life, and give them up in order to make room for a single-minded devotion as disciples of our Lord and of him alone.
Lord God, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.” [Psa 145:15-16 NRSV]. You possess all we need and give it freely to us. Help us to trust that the life you offer is the life worth having and give us courage to follow where you lead even when the fleshpots of Egypt are beguiling. For our part we covenant to be your faithful people and to remember that when we are with you we are not lost even when we are journeying in unfamiliar territories. In the name of the Holy One of Israel who offers us an escape from the brickyards. Amen.