Proper 18 Year A, September 10, 2017 "Identity"

Reverend Deacon Katherine G. Dougherty
Sermon Text: 

Proper 18 – September 10, 2017

Fall Kick-Off Sunday

Exodus 12:1-14 – “Identity”

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

         Can you imagine the logistical nightmare that Moses and Aaron were handed on that day in Egypt?  Think back through that Old Testament story that many of us have heard plenty of times. 

         They were told by God to tell an entire nation of people, a mere 20-40,000 people to…  1. find and take a perfect year-old lamb,   2. do it on the 10th of the month,   3. slaughter it on the 14th of the month specifically at twilight,   4. roast it with bitter herbs,   5. don’t have any leftovers,  6. eat with sandals and a staff in hand,   7. hurry and finally  8.  if your family is small – join another family and do it together whether you know them or not.

         And oh, by the way…make sure you put some of the lamb’s blood on your doorpost or the Angle of Death will snuff you out. [1]

         Can you imagine the conversations within any modern day community over directions for an event like this?    First of all, how many of us would be looking at our calendars on our cell phones, thinking… “Well, the 10th day of the month doesn’t really work well for me, could we reschedule for maybe the 21st?”  or “Does it have to be at twilight?  That’s really not a good time for my family.”

         And while some of us are debating day and time,  others would be talking about lamb recipes.  Whose infamous, family lamb recipe are we going to use and do we include mint jelly or not?  And if that isn’t hard enough, who is going to email the recipe to everyone – does someone have the group email address and how do we coordinate slaughtering all those lambs at the same time.  And what about the vegetarians and vegans?  What will they do in a moment like this? 

         Holy cow – coordinating an event like this would make the smartest Hospitality Team or the highest rated Party Planner run from the room screaming…let alone good ol’ Moses and Aaron.

         Why were these details so important? 

         Because this meal was the starting point of a whole new identity for this community.   See, these were the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—they are the children and inheritors of the Promise of God, - of the Covenant—and they had been striped of that heritage and made to be slaves.  They needed something to help them begin to break away from everything they knew, and start over.  Life in a new land, on the other side of slavery, would be completely different—and they were going to do it together—and with the help of God.  This meal would begin to form them into a new kind of people.  God told Moses, they were to have this meal year after year – this ritual – this tradition done over and over again would solidify their new identity.[2]

         Identity is so important to human beings.  It defines who we are – what we value - where we belong – and how we contribute to life.  Throughout our lives, we shift and change as we grow.  Our identity evolves as we live our lives as individuals and as members of communities. 

         As our children and teens enter this new school year, they too will try to determine who they are.  As they walk through the halls of their schools and through the doors of their new classrooms each day, they will try to figure out where they fit in – who they are in this group – what life is going to be like as a 3rd grader or a 6th grader or a sophomore or junior.  We can all remember what that was like – the good and the hard memories.

         But as we all know, it doesn’t stop with our school years.  It’s human nature to periodically look around and take stock.  Who am I as a mother or father trying to provide and care for my family?  Who am I as I begin this new job…or remain in the one I’ve done for 10+ years?  Who am I as I approach this next birthday – this next year – this next milestone? What do I want to stand for and what do I want to accomplish?  Who am I after working a lifetime and now being retired?  How do I want to spend my time?  What is important to me?  What is my identity now?

         God tells Moses and Aaron that THIS month shall mark the beginning of the year.  As we heard, God was very specific as to the date… “it shall be the first month of the year for you…on the tenth of this month…” is when you are to remember this date.  For the Israelites, who at this moment in time were still slaves in Egypt, this would mark their new beginning.  For them this would stamp when their identity shifted from being slaves to being free.  These were a people who desperately needed a do-over.  They needed a new chance at life, and God was giving them that. 

         One’s identity or aspects of the past can be hard to let go of sometimes.  God seems to account for that in this story.  “If a household is too small for a lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one.”  Change is hard, and the Israelites were encouraged to join one another in this process.  Together, they would get through this time of transition.  With each person working and contributing to the welfare of the community, they would break the bonds of their past so they could live into their future – into their new identity as beloved children of God who are free from the bonds that held them back. 

         Identity is an interesting thing.  It defines for us who we are and often influences our actions.  It can also change over time.  As Christians, our identity is rooted in our covenant with God and in the love of Jesus Christ.  We are a sinful people yet a forgiven people.  We are deeply loved by God and told to share that love with others. 

         How will our identity help us respond to what is happening in our world?   As parts of our country suffer from the floods and devastating hurricanes, how will our identity as Christians help us to respond?  Prayer is a good and important response.  We know the power of prayer.  We know it strengthens and sustains people.  Pray for them.  Pray every day for the people impacted by Harvey and by Irma.  Our words don’t need to be perfect or well crafted.  God hears all prayers!

         Action is another part of our identity.  I don’t have to tell anyone in here about action.  This community is infamous for it’s action and loving care of others.  As our country continues to struggle with racial divides, discrimination and immigration issues, we can look to our Christian beliefs to guide our actions and words.  Jesus left no doubt as to what our actions are to be – love your God with all your heart, soul, and mind – love your neighbor as yourself.  With those words at the root of our identity as Christians, we have the guidance we need to take the actions this world hungers for. 

         Yes, Moses had a gigantic task ahead of him – a task that would literally mean life and death.    By trusting in God and risking it all, the Israelites were able to break their bonds of slavery and step into a new life-giving identity.  It was their courage that is rooted in our identity today. Let it guide us, inform us, and help us embrace this world that desperately needs to feel love.

[1] Rick Morley, A Garden Path,

[2] Rick Morley, A Garden Path,


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