July in the United States is a time when we think about the value of liberty. I’m going to spend the month in a sermon series where we look at the freedom God offers us.
Specifically, I’m going to use texts from Exodus, an Old Testament book where we hear the story of God’s special relationship with the Israelites and the miracles God performed to free them from oppression in Egypt.
Today’s text, Exodus 6:1-11, has a couple of key points I want to highlight. First, God is revealing himself to the people of Israel in a new way. Through Moses, God is offering a deeper relationship with his chosen people by telling them a more intimate name by which they can know their God. In English translations, we usually use the word “Lord.” One transliteration of the name in Hebrew is “Yahweh.”
I also take particular note of how God continues to plan and pursue the Israelites’ freedom from Pharaoh despite their unwillingness to listen to Moses, a disbelief brought on by prolonged bondage and abuse.
It’s a powerful story, one that has inspired people enslaved in one way or another for centuries. But what does it mean to us today?
Well, first of all, we see how God desires freedom for his creation, in particular the people made for a relationship with God. God’s actions in Exodus are a precursor to God’s efforts to free the world from the bondage of sin, returning us to a state of holiness so we can be in his presence. Working as Jesus Christ on the cross, God breaks the power of sin and death, freeing us for eternal life.
Secondly, even as people freed from sin, we sometimes continue to wrestle with bondage in different forms. We can fall back into sin and find it difficult to escape despite the power we’re given; we can suffer in other ways, too, as we await Christ’s return and the final destruction of the evil that remains.
I’ve experienced my own form of bondage in recent years, something I’ve kept to myself for too long. It’s a spiritually crushing problem that’s hard to talk about, especially if you’re a pastor trying to live out the stereotype of never looking weak.
I get depressed, sometimes to the point where it’s difficult for me to focus on Scripture, prayer or other activities that keep me connected to God. This depression hits me particularly hard in winter, making me think it’s probably a seasonal, light-related thing.
I thought I had it licked this winter, taking precautions that are supposed to help. In late winter and early spring, however, it hit hard, swallowing me up like a soggy blanket.
My wife, Connie, noted dryly I had mastered the art of Lent, that somber season when we share in Christ’s passion and the walk toward the cross. It’s an important season to pass through, but the joy of the resurrection is supposed to snap you out of it! It didn’t this year, at least not right away.
I bring this up because I am reminded in Exodus how God worked in community with the Israelites, just as God works in community through the Holy Spirit now. God willing, I’ll experience another winter late this year and early next year, but I pray that this time I’ll remember I’m surrounded by people I can trust, people who can pull me up when I find myself sinking low.
Depression is just one form of bondage. There are so many others. Ongoing sins and various addictions come to mind. None of us should be afraid to admit we find ourselves bound from time to time. After all, church, that gathering of God’s people, is where we go to have the hateful knots untied.