First Presbyterian Church
Rev. Lou Nyiri
Exodus 12:1-14 / Romans 13:8-10
In her poem Passover Remembered, poet and Episcopal Priest Alla Renee Bozarth-Campbell, writes of the Israelite’s excursion from Pharoah’s oppressive rule into their wilderness wanderings in the following way:
Bring only your determination to serve and your willingness to be free.
Only surrender to the need of the time – to love justice and walk humbly with your God.
Set out in the dark.
I will send fire to warm and encourage you.
I will be with you in the fire and I will be with you in the cloud.
You will learn to eat new food and find refuge in new places.
I will give you dreams in the desert to guide you safely home to that place you have not seen.
The stories you tell one another around the fires in the dark will make you strong and wise.
You will get to where you are going by remembering who you are.
Touch [Tend to] each other and keep telling stories.
[Tend to] each other and keep telling stories.
You will get to where you are going…by remembering who you are.
To these poetic words of Bozarth-Campbell we might add …do this in order to remember whose you are.
Who are we?
Our Exodus and Romans texts help us to see this good news.
In the Exodus text, Moses and Aaron are instructed by God to instruct the gathered community to institute the Passover festival – it is their way of commemorating how the Lord spared the Israelites and prompted their release by Pharoah.
While the release from oppression in the Passover act is significant – also of significance are the mechanics of the first Passover.
We begin with the instruction of verses 3 and 4, “Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it.”
While many English versions of the Bible translate the Hebrew word seh as “lamb” – the word represents a much broader group of animals. A seh is an animal of a flock, the Passover makes room for those who could not afford a lamb to be able to participate in the ritual with another animal – like the more affordable sheep or goat. Additionally, if one’s household was too small to consume the entire animal, they would join their neighbor to participate.
With this instruction, the Passover ritual is a reminder that we are called into the kind of community which seeks the provision for all in the community – for we’re all on the journey together – we’re all children of God – we’re all called to tend to each other – we’re all part of a larger group where everyone belongs.
When New York City was hit by one of the worst hurricanes in history, an individual by the name of Shell, a long-time host on Airbnb, realized that the loss for some people was devastating. As the waters rose and people had to evacuate their homes, many of them couldn’t return for days, if at all.
After the hurricane hit, Shell, “[felt a] hit [her] stomach and thought, people are really getting stuck” and so she decided to go online and list her space for free for those who were in need.
Her action sparked a movement within the Airbnb community whereupon other hosts did the same. Over 400 hosts opened their own homes for free, offering not only a place to sleep, but a connection during a very uncertain time.
Shell also held a food drive for the community right out of her kitchen.
Eventually, people were able to go home again, in the in-between time, Shell, through hospitality, made their lives a little less difficult.
Emily Fields Joffrion, an Airbnb spokesperson at the time, commented on this endeavor, "What's going on in New York, is really hard for people outside to grasp what it feels and looks like. After disasters, there can be a moment when you feel like the world isn't listening anymore. The severity of the situation hasn't gone away, and it's really important for everyone to have a place to go.”
It’s important for everyone to have a place to go…
We’re all children of God – on the journey together – we’re all called to tend to each other – to create a place where everyone belongs – where everyone has a place to go.
After reminding of the call to become a community which provides for one another, Aaron and Moses instruct the Israelites regarding unleavened bread and bitter Passover herbs noted in verse 8 as a way of reminding them of their pain. Then a few verses later (in verse 11) comes the instruction as to how to eat the Passover meal wearing the proper attire and footwear – which is a reminder to be ready to move.
Together these verses recall for the Israelites how their forebears had to leave Egypt in such haste that the dough for their bread did not have time to rise. The bitter herbs serve as reminder of the harsh enslavement their ancestors endured in Egypt.
With this instruction, the Passover ritual is a reminder that we are called into the kind of community which makes room for our pain to be recalled, shared, and carried together.
There's a Latin proverb, quoted by Cicero in his treatise on friendship De Amicitia that goes, "Before you trust [another], eat a peck of salt with [them]."
This led to the definition of a friend as someone who will "eat salt" with us, as in this poem by Rudyard Kipling:
I have eaten your bread and salt
I have drunk your water and wine
The deaths ye died I have watched beside
And the lives ye led were mine.
To “eat salt” with another is a metaphor for crying together or sharing pain or trial with another.
It's about becoming real and vulnerable with one another.
In the classic children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, written by British author Margery Williams, we learn about what it means to be real…
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
To be part of the ekklesia – the church – the gathered community of faith – God’s people – is to be part of a people who understand what it means to be real.
To understand that we’re all children of God – on the journey together – we’re all called to tend to each other – to create a place where everyone belongs – where we make room – to be authentic…to be real…to be vulnerable – as together we share life’s ebb and flow…to laugh together in joy-filled moments and weep together in pain-filled moments.
All of which is captured in the life-changing word – love.
To know we are loved – and in turn – to share that love.
“Owe no one anything,” Paul wrote, “except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:8, 9b)
Author, speaker, and Presbyterian, Anne Lamott talks about teaching Sunday School in the church she attends in Marin County, California. Pre-pandemic, most weeks, her class did something she calls Loved and Chosen. Here is how it goes: Lamott would sit down on the couch in the Sunday school room and look at all the little, wriggling bodies before her. Then she would glance slowly around the room in a goofy, menacing way, and say something like “Is anyone here wearing a blue sweatshirt with Pokemon on it?”
A four-year-old would look down at his chest, astonished to discover that he matched that description, like—what are the odds?
So, he would raise his hand, and she would invite him over to sit on the couch beside her. Lamott would look in his eyes and say, “You are so loved and chosen” as he [sat in wonderment].
Lamott would repeat the exercise, asking about green socks with brown shoes, a San Fransisco Giants cap, an argyle vest. And wouldn’t you know it, she writes, “each of them [in the class] would turn out to be loved and chosen, which, in the world, does not happen so often (Anne Lamott, Grace Eventually, pp. 28–29).
Lamott’s Sunday School opener makes me wonder…
How would life be different if we lived each day knowing/believing there is a seat for us on that sofa where ae are invited (whether we’re age 4, 24 or 104) to sit still long enough to hear that we are loved and chosen by God.
How would the world be different if our structures and institutions were shaped by the belief that every human being is loved and chosen by God.
As we come together, are we:
For when we come together and live in such ways our actions declare to each other you are so loved and so chosen…we become real and we become who it is God knows we can become.
As we come together on the Kick-Off Sunday, may we not forget that God is calling us to create this kind of community.
To God be the glory, now and forevermore.
Alleluia and Amen.
 This poem is Reprinted from The Common Good, No 32, Lent 2005 and can be found at the following website: http://catholicworker.org.nz/the-common-good/passover-remembered/
 —From the Airbnb website, airbnb.com. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
 Taken from CNN Business online article, https://money.cnn.com/2012/11/07/technology/innovation/airbnb-free-housing-sandy/index.html
 Kipling, Departmental Ditties (1886), Prelude St.1.
 Taken from: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/191202/the-velveteen-rabbit-by-margery-williams-illustrated-by-william-nicholson/9780385375665/excerpt