I once rode a bus across the Rift Valley of East Africa. Though, I didn’t get to see much. The bus was literally packed three layers high with occupants. We road from Nairobi to Lake Victoria. By the time we arrived I was in pretty bad shape. It only took about six hours, but it seemed like several generations. Everybody else seemed to be fine. It took a bottle of Tusker, a pale Kenyan beer, to revive me. The taste of freedom.
That experience of being let off the bus, of being able to breathe, and move, of not being confined and bound up under the weight of humanity, the taste of that beer, it was like discovering freedom. The feeling and taste of room, lots of room, relief.
One time as a child I had a similar experience when we decided to “rock the deep end” of our neighborhood swimming pool. If you don’t know about “Rock the Deep End”, it involves getting a whole bunch of people to jump into the deep end at the same time, and to get out as quick as you can and to just keep on jumping in until the waves get satisfyingly big enough, or all the water splashes out of the pool. At some point in the chaos, I was pushed under by the mass of bodies and I couldn’t get back to the surface, the bodies plunging into the water all around me and on top of me kept me under. It seemed to be forever. It was only a few moments, but it seemed to be forever, generations. When I finally made it back up to the surface there was that first breath, freedom, relief.
I read recently about the trains in World War Two packed with Jews being taken to concentration camps, packed to bursting for days on end.
It reminded me of the middle passage, when slaves captured in west Africa, were packed into ships to cross the Atlantic, this went on for over three hundred years. Each slave on those ships was given the space of a coffin, for weeks and weeks and weeks. The mortality rate was staggering.
I can’t imagine what that would be like.
My little tastes of confinement are nothing.
Captivity and dreams of freedom. Much of scripture can be read in the light of those two experiences: captivity and dreams of freedom.
We begin the book of Exodus today. It is the great story that for millennia has inspired those who are in captivity.
Joseph has died. A new Pharaoh rises who “knew not Joseph”, as the King James says.
The children of Israel are enslaved and oppressed. They are too fruitful and become a threat to the demographics of the kingdom.
The story begins with God’s first two covert agents, two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who protect the newborns and outwit Pharaoh, for a time, right under his nose. And then the newborn Moses infiltrates Pharaoh’s own household.
The dreams of empire, of fear and control, they begin to unravel, as always, from within. The story of deliverance from captivity begins. The dream of God in the world is subversive, undermining those whose keep others under the thumb, and it begins with midwives and newborns.
The God of Exodus. How is the God of Exodus experienced?
The one who sets the captives free?
A similar question and answer happens in the Gospel lesson this morning.
Who do people say that I am?
To Peter, he is the Messiah, the anointed one, the Son of the Living God.
Peter is given keys and the authority to bind and to loose, to set the captives free.
Who is Jesus to you?
What comes to mind? Not the words, but your heart. What does your heart say?
Is Jesus just another big thumb pinning people down?
Or is he the one who sets the captives free?
How do we experience Jesus? How do others experience Jesus through us?
As deliverance or captivity?
As binding or loosing?
As the key that opens or the key that locks?
As the rock that weighs down or the rock that holds us up?
Today we rally for Ministry with all the creatures of our God and King, the ministry of setting captives free.
Today we remember Siphrah and Puah, Moses and Peter, and the Messiah who suffers captivity that God’s freedom may be tasted.
Be that breath of fresh air, that taste of freedom to those who are weighed down.
Bring room to those who are bound up.
Dream of freedom.