Youth Pastor at Berlin Brethren Church, in Berlin, PA
A note from Pastor John: As you can tell from the header, today’s blog isn’t from me, it’s from my Ashland Seminary classmate, Luke Dowdy. Luke shared this devotion during the last online meeting of our World of the Hebrew Bible class, and I was so struck by it that I asked him to share it with me, so that I could share it with all of you. I hope that you like it as much as I did.
Today’s devotion is inspired by our recent studies in women of the Old Testament. I’d like to introduce our passage with a question; “Are you carrying a tambourine?”
Let’s set the context. Moses had been sent by God on what seemed to be an impossible mission of freeing an entire people from slavery with only a staff and the revelation of his name. Through the course of making his appeals to Pharaoh, followed by 10 devastating plagues, the Israelites are hurried out of Egypt and sent on their way. But it doesn’t take Pharaoh long to change his mind and go chasing after them.
The people begin to panic and Moses intercedes for them, leading to the famous crossing of the sea. We know that after the Israelites cross on dry land to safety, the waters that were being held back by God come crashing in and destroy Pharaoh’s chariots and horsemen. It was a moment of deliverance! God had come through for them when they needed help the most.
Then in Exodus 15, we’re told the people of Israel began to sing. “Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying, ‘I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name.’”
The song of deliverance in chapter 15 continues a bit more. But what caught my attention the most was actually what happens after, beginning in verse 19. “For when the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought back the waters of the sea upon them, but the people of Israel walked on dry ground in the midst of the sea. Then Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.’”
This reading on women and daily life have me thinking of a packing list. We all have one when we travel, whether on vacation or an extended trip…and the Israelites are probably no different.
If you were told you were about to flee Egypt on short notice, what you would pack? What is so essential to your family, your survival, your identity that you’d take with you? Let’s set aside the plunder taken from the Egyptians in chapter 12 for a moment and focus on the packing list. I’m guessing there might be some type of cookware, maybe a bread basket. Clothes make sense to cover your family. Oils for various needs are appropriate. Perhaps a skin for holding liquids. Would you pack an heirloom that’s been passed down that you want to be sure your children get?
But of all the things to pack leaving Egypt hastily, when space is tight, and you don’t want to be bogged down for the journey, they make room for tambourines! Where did they come from? It seems out of place.
Imagine the packing conversations, wondering what to leave behind to make room for the instrument. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d let my wife bring a tambourine as an “essential item” if we were about to embark on an extended trip.
But Miriam and the women seem to know that praise was up ahead, something worthy of worship…and they were prepared! They left Egypt in anticipation of great things to come…and they packed their tambourines! The instruments made the list!
I think we can all ask, “Are we carrying a tambourine” in anticipation for what is ahead, something worthy of worship because God will pull through when we need him the most? Of all the things I’ve packed for my day, so to speak, is one of my items a tambourine?
Many of you are old enough to have watched the Steven Spielberg movie, E.T. the Extraterrestrial and, even if you haven’t watched it, you probably at least know something about it. There’s also a good chance that E.T. is what you thought of when you saw today’s sermon title, “Christian Extraterrestrials.” But despite Elon Musk’s goal of establishing a colony on Mars, interplanetary Christians is not what I have in mind… at least for today. What I have in mind, however, is just a little bit different linguistically. I thought about using Superhuman, or Supernatural, but those words bring up mental images of Superman from the planet Krypton, or a couple of brothers on television who fight ghosts, demons, and other non-human creatures, so neither of those words really work either. But the definition of the prefix “extra” means “beyond” and so while “extra-terrestrial” can mean a person, or a creature, that is from beyond our planet, it might also mean someone from this planet whose abilities lie beyond the those of normal, or expected, people.
And besides, it made you curious.
In any case, “beyond terrestrial” is a legitimate translation of the language that is used in our scriptures today. But, before we get to that, let’s begin with the story of Joseph. Nearing the end of Joseph’s epic in Genesis, we join his story at the point where, having once been sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph is now, after Pharaoh, the second most powerful man in all of Egypt if not the second most powerful man on the planet. But at this moment, Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers, the same men who years earlier had beaten him, thrown him in an empty cistern, and sold him into slavery. And, understandably, when his brothers realize who he is, they are terrified. We rejoin that story in Genesis 45:3-11,15:
3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. 9 Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks, and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise, you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’
15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.
Joseph’s brothers were terrified that, because he was now the most powerful man in Egypt, and not the pesky younger brother, they expected that he would take his revenge on them for what they had done. And, honestly, no one would be surprised if that had happened. Joseph had every right to be angry and it would have been fair for him to sell his brothers into slavery as they had done to him. But Joseph’s relationship with God gave him a different perspective. Rather than seeing this as an opportunity for revenge, Joseph sees that God has been intervening in human affairs, influencing events, and moving him into position so that he could rescue the entire nation of Egypt, and his family, the people that would one day become the nation of Israel. Joseph behaves in a way that is unexpected because his relationship with God has given him a vision of the world that is beyond human.
And we can see that same vision as Jesus teaches his disciples in Luke 6:27-38, as he says:
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Jesus says that being ‘just as good’ as the evil people around you isn’t good enough. And being just as good as average and ordinary people isn’t good enough either. The standard for his followers is to do good even when no other reasonable person would do good, to be unreasonably good, or… beyond humanly good. Jesus wants his followers to love the people around them more than other reasonable people would love, to love in a way that is beyond humanly loving or, beyond earthly love.
And the examples that Jesus gives are so far beyond our understanding of normal, that they are understandably difficult. Jesus says that we should loan money, not just to people that we trust, and not just people that we believe can pay us back, but to loan money to people we don’t even like, people we regard as our enemies, and that includes people that we might be confident have no means, and possibly no intention, of ever paying us back. Jesus says that we should loan them the money with no expectation that we should get it back. In other words, just give money away to people that you hate, and who probably hate you back. Loving in ways that are beyond human, or beyond terrestrial, is exactly the point that Jesus is making. Our calling isn’t to love the people around us like ordinary, average, or even exceptional people love, our calling is to love the people around us the way that God loves. God is loving, kind, and merciful to the ungrateful and the wicked who neither like him nor even know him.
It’s worth noting here that “Do not judge” is currently one of the most commonly misquoted and misinterpreted verses of scripture. It most certainly does not mean that we should… never… judge. Matthew includes this same quote from Jesus, but records Jesus’ statement as saying, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1) To make this clear, some translations record this as “Do not judge unfairly” rather than simply do not judge. There are many times when Jesus asks, even commands us to judge between good and evil, honor and dishonor, to be discerning in all that we do, and other things. What Jesus clearly means is that we will be judged in the same way that we judge others. Don’t rush to judgement. Don’t judge without evidence. Or, as the translators have said, don’t judge unfairly. Likewise, we can expect to receive the generosity of God with the same, or better, generosity that we show others. Give and it will be given to you in an even more abundant and generous measure.
But why? Why is the standard for love, mercy, and compassion so much higher for Christians than it is for everyone else? Why does God demand that our behavior be beyond human, whether we call that super-human or extra-terrestrial? We find the answer to “why” in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth where he says (1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50) …
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.
42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam [aka Jesus], a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man [Adam], so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man [Jesus], so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall webear the image of the heavenly man.
And although Paul takes a while to get to his point, the answer really is simple. The reason that the followers of Jesus Christ are commanded, and empowered, to behave in ways that are beyond human, and the reason that it isn’t okay to just be the same as other people, is because earth and heaven are not the same. Adam and Jesus are not the same. When we choose to follow Jesus Christ, we become image bearers of God. Our calling is no longer to look like everyone else and reflect the image of the world in which we live, but rather to reflect the image of a merciful, just, compassionate, and loving God and to reflect an entirely different reality.
As the image bearers of God, we must love more than humanly possible, be impossibly forgiving, extraordinarily generous, inhumanly merciful, and in every other way that we can, be an accurate reflection the goodness and holiness of God.
God has called us, commanded us, and empowered us to behave in ways that are super-human, and beyond earthly.
In other words, we are called to be nothing less than Extra-Terrestrial Christians.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.
I know I’m a year late, but as I began to assemble the top ten blog posts of 2012, I realized that there were a few from 2011 that still had value and might well be worth a second look.Here they are, more or less in order of popularity.
2) Laws of Man and God – Are guns evil? Part 1 – February 9, 2011 – Part 1 of 4 – The first in a series that I wrote after the shooting of Gabriel Giffords.Not really pro-gun or anti gun, just asking a lot of questions and thinking out loud.The first two installments made the year’s top ten, but while part 3 was moderately popular, almost no one made it to part 4.My lesson?Even broken into pieces, this was just too long.
7) 20/20 Blindness – March 31, 2011 – A blind man is thrown out of a restaurant because of his guide dog.Apparently, humans are just as blind today as the Pharisees that Jesus knew.
8) Christmas in January – January 4, 2011- I explain why our family still leaves our Christmas decorations us until the first week in January.Not everyone celebrates Christmas on December 25th you know.
9) Too Busy for God? – May 25, 2011 – Do you plans for the summer, or for the New Year, include church.If church is important to you, don’t allow it to happen by accident.
In reality, there was a three or four way tie for tenth place.Instead of picking one of those, or using all of them, I jump to the blog that comes after the tie because, even though it was read less often, it had more comments than any other blog of the year.That’s worth something mentioning, I think.
Honorable Mention) The Nightmare of Democracy? – February 14, 2011 – I include this, a blog that was written at the very beginning of what we now call the Arab Spring.In it, I worried that the revolution in Egypt might not be such a great thing.In the two years since, attacks on Coptic Christians and on the Coptic Church have increased and the government has shown little interest in preventing it.Events are still unfolding in the Middle East and as they do, out brothers and sisters in Christ will continue to be in need of our prayers.
The founding fathers of the United States often referred to it as an experiment in democracy.These men knew that democracies often self-destruct and as I noted last week, at least one of these men (John Adams) felt that democracy required for the people to be both moral and religious in order to be successful.In that light, I have been wondering about the current upheaval in Egypt.Much of the world and many of my friends are rejoicing at the victory of the people in Egypt but I find many reasons to be cautious.
First, I suppose is simply that often times the devil we know is less frightening than the devil we don’t know.Mr. Mubarak has recently been denigrated as a ‘tyrant’ but not that long ago he was a ‘valuable ally.’I don’t keep up to date on the current events in many nations around the world so I admit that I may have missed something, but I am left noticing that there seems to be some revisionist history going on.It is also important to remember that Egypt has technically been a democratic nation and that Mr. Mubarak was a democratically elected leader despite his recently publicized tyranny.
Second, it is important to recall that democracy does not always end well.Historically, there are a number of notable democratic elections that resulted in governments that were far worse than the ones they replaced.Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party were democratically elected and used the constitution of the Weimar Republic to seize even more power.In our lifetime we saw that the current theocratic government of Iran was democratically elected (sort of) during the Iranian Revolution but is, in many ways, worse than the monarchy that it replaced.
Finally, we should be reminded that Americans tend to see the world as Americans who live overseas.By that I mean that we tend to think that people on the other side of the ocean a) like us and b) want to be like us.Those of us who have traveled abroad or who have even met people from abroad will have no difficulty in saying that in many cases, neither of these is true.When it comes to democracy, what works for us may not work for everyone.What we want is not what the people of Egypt want.As a result, the government that Egypt ultimately ends up with is not likely to look anything at all like ours, democratically elected or not.
So what do the people of Egypt want?The Pew Research Center conducted a major survey of adults in Egypt last year and the results were summarized in Investor’s Weekly
84% favor the death penalty for person leaving the Muslim faith.
82% favor the death penalty for adultery
54% believe that women and men should be segregated in the workplace.
54% believe that suicide bombings that kill civilians can be justified.
95% prefer that religion play a “large role” in politics.
If these are the prevailing opinions of adult Egyptians, then despite any claims to the contrary any democratically elected government is likely to mirror those opinions.As a result, that government will likely not be all that we, as Americans and as Christians, might hope for.To me, it seems that any democratically elected government that represented a people that held these values might eventually desire the following structures and policies:
–Is likely to be highly influenced by the religion of Islam and may incorporate Sharia law.
–It may not value the personal liberties and equal rights that we assume to be normative.Women, minorities, and non-Muslims are likely to suffer from discrimination and perhaps even outright persecution.Under Mubarak, Egypt has not done well in protecting the religious liberties of native Coptic Christians who represent 10% of the population.A government that openly favors Islam cannot be expected to do better.
–May well lend government support and financial aid to organizations that we see as terrorist groups.
–Will almost certainly not be friendly to the interests of the United States.
–Will likely be hostile to the nation of Israel.
It is not a foregone conclusion that these things will happen and, in fact, I hope they do not but I realize that what I want is not nearly the same as what the average Egyptian wants.
Today the Egyptian military officially suspended Egypt’s constitution and dissolved the parliament.With that, what we have (so far) in Egypt is no less than a military coup.Our founding fathers knew that democracies often self-destruct.Democracy was (and is) a dangerous thing.There are a thousand ways that a democratic government can go horribly wrong and history is full of examples.Read any newspaper and you can see that it is something that we worry over constantly ourselves.
I hope that a new government will bring the people of Egypt everything that they hope for.My fear is that whatever form it takes may not be good news for us, for Israel, and for many Egyptians.