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“A Future with Hope Final Week” Deuteronomy 34: 1-8
November 22, 2020 Rev. Nancy Talbot at Mount Seymour United Church
I don’t know when the first time I heard
someone singing “Go Down Moses” was but it’s one of those pieces that gets into
your bones and stays with you, especially when it’s sung by someone like Marcus
Mosely. When I was wondering about
asking Marcus to sing it for us this week I searched up the lyrics. Much to my
surprise, I found words for the chorus that were different than the words I
remembered singing along to in the past and I wondered if I’d been singing the
wrong words all these years. Instead of saying tell ol’ pharaoh “let my people
go!” these lyrics said “tell all
pharaohs, let my people go!” Marcus assured
me that I have actually been singing it right, the original lyrics are tell ol’
pharaoh, not tell all pharaohs but we were both intrigued by the difference.
In the biblical story of the Exodus, Pharaoh is
the ruler who has enslaved the Hebrew people in Egypt. But when African Americans sing Go Down Moses
they aren’t just singing about the enslavement of the Hebrew people, they are
singing about their own enslavement.
Singing “tell all pharaohs” broadens that context to clearly say we
stand on the side of any and all things, all pharaohs that try to clip our
wings, confine us, oppress us and take away our freedom. “Tell all Pharaohs let
my people go! Set us Free”
As we come to the end of our 11 week series on
a Future with Hope, as we think about what it is that we are hoping for in the
future and what it is that we want to be set free from, I think there’s
probably not a person on the planet who doesn’t want to be set free from
We are now looking towards the next 5 weeks and
hoping for a future that might include Christmas with our families. We are looking to a new year that might
include a return to our regular routines.
This season of our lives is dragging on longer than any of us could have
imagined back in March when it all started. Instead of getting better things
are getting worse and we just want it to be over.I want to truly honour the
hardships we are facing in these days, the sacrifices we are being asked to
make and the isolation, the loss and the horror that this virus has inflicted
on so many. I want to acknowledge that
future we are all longing for is a time when a vaccine will be made available
and sufficient immunity is achieved and we can return to worshipping together
and seeing our families and friends and resuming the activities that give us
life and watching our economy recover so those who have lost their livelihoods
can find meaningful employment once again.
And, I also want to acknowledge the places and
people in our world who have lived without basic freedoms and who have worked
for and longed for a future with hope that will not be delivered the day
immunity from Covid-19 is found.
And so what I really want to do today is to encourage
us in this moment to not lose sight of the bigger vision God has for our world. As we dream about and work towards a day when
we are Covid free, I want us to invite us to dream bigger, to dream of a day
when all people are set free from all pharaohs, from all injustice and from all
oppression. I want to invite us to dream
and to envision the kind of future that Moses dreamt for his people, a dream in
which they would be delivered from slavery in Egypt and entered into a new and
Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann talks about
the moment of liberation in the story of the Exodus. He says that moment didn’t come when the
plagues arrived in Egypt. It didn’t come
when Moses finally managed to convince Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people go free. He says it didn’t come when Moses parted the
Red Sea for his people to pass over to the other side. It didn’t even come in the moment of his
death that we heard described in today’s reading when Moses looked out over all
the land that God had promised and said you won’t get there but they will. According
to Walter Brueggemann, the moment of liberation in the story of the Exodus was
the moment when Moses climbed up Mt. Sinai and God planted a seed of hope
within him and suddenly he could see an alternate vision of reality.
Once he could see in his mind’s eye that his
people did not have to live a life of slavery, that pharaoh could be overcome,
that a new land could be found, that was the moment of his emancipation. In that moment he was emancipated in heart
and mind. That’s how freedom begins,
that’s when the seeds get planted.
One of the things Covid-19 has done for us is
to expose at least 2 realities. On the
one hand disparity has been revealed. We
have learned about the vulnerability of our seniors living in crowded care
facilities and tended by people who have to work several jobs just to put food
on their tables. We see the way this
virus has taken hold in the homes of low income earners who tend to live in
closer quarters than those whose incomes are higher. The way that black lives and indigenous lives
have not mattered enough has been exposed.
On the other hand we have seen people come
together caring for neighbours they never even talked to before covid, cheering
on front line workers day after day after day and marching in the streets for
justice with people of every colour of the rainbow so that all colours will be
seen and heard. Covid 19 has helped us
to catch a glimpse of what is possible.
It’s set our hearts and minds free to dream.
In so many ways, this virus has given us an
opportunity, an opportunity to reflect on who we are and who we want to be, an opportunity for us to take hold of an
alternate vision of our reality, not to go back to the way things have always
been but to create for ourselves and for our world a future that is the way
things always should have been in the first time.
One of the things I love about the story of the
death of Moses is that we are told that even at the ripe old age of 120, his
sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The writer of Deuteronomy is
definitely taking some poetic license here because there’s all kinds of
evidence that from time to time Moses did get weary and did lose sight of the
alternate vision God had shown him.
These last verses of scripture that describe his death are a bit like
the memorial services in which we choose to overlook some of the more negative
aspects of the life of the deceased.
Because Moses definitely got weary and he definitely lost sight of the
vision from time to time.
But do you know when he did when he got weary
and when he lost sight? He climbed back
up Mt. Sinai and he talked to God about it.
He returned to the original source of the vision.
Don’t you think it’s true, that all visions of
freedom are planted in us by the one who created us in freedom, created us in
hope? Hope that we might flourish, hope that we might see one another as we
have first been seen by the eyes of Love?
Moses did not make it to the promise land, but
he worked tirelessly on behalf of his people, so that they might one day live
in that new land that he envisioned and that God had promised.
The night that Joe Biden gave his acceptance
speech as incoming president of the United States of America, his running mate
Kamala Harris, the first African and Asian American woman to be elected
vice-president also gave her acceptance speech. The next day I saw a meme on
Facebook that said “Rosa sat so that Ruby could walk so that Kamala could
When Rosa Parks refused to sit in the “coloured”
section of the bus on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama she might not
have imagined a day when Kamala Harris would be the Vice President of her
country. When Ruby Bridges became the first African American child to go to a
desegregated school in 1960 she might not have imagined it either, but Rosa and
Ruby and Kamala carried within themselves an alternate vision of reality passed
on to them from one generation to the next and on November 6th that
vision became a bit more real.
I don’t know what all the seeds of hope are
that you have been called to plant for the future with your own lives. I do know that some of you are working
tirelessly to raise up your children to be open and accepting and inclusive of
all people. I know that some of you take
every opportunity you can to march and write letters and raise funds for
climate action and indigenous rights and freedoms, for peace in Israel and
Palestine and for the Black Lives Matter movement. Some of you work in the Thrift Shop so that
you can contribute towards the betterment of people living on the downtown
eastside or in the north shore youth safe house. Some of you plant seeds of hope simply
through gestures of kindness towards those that others too often neglect. I
could go on and on talking about the many good seeds I see you planting and
nurturing with your lives.
And I know that from time to time you do get
weary and from time to time you do lose sight of the alternate vision of
reality that has been planted in you. I
want to encourage you, especially in these discouraging days of 2020, to be
like Moses, to keep returning to the ultimate source of our freedom, to get
re-energized and to clear your eyes, to keep on nurturing those seeds even if
you don’t get to see them come to full fruition.
Someday, somewhere, someone will taste the
fruits of your labours and be set free.
May it be so.