By The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan
February 12th, 2023
Lectio Divina – Divine or Sacred Reading-(Download)
Opening Prayer – Prayer of Awareness
We wake to the forgiveness of a new day. We wake to the freedom to begin again.
We wake to the mercy of the sun’s redeeming light. Always new, always gift, always blessing.
We wake to the forgiveness of this new day.
Part I - “Deliverance Stories”
[“Inspired – Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” by Rachel Held Evans.]
[A reading about Passover, pp. 35-37.]
The story of the exodus, of the escape of the Israelites from the grip of Pharaoh, is perhaps the best known of the Bible’s deliverance stories. The tale has long been central to Jewish identity and ethic, recounted daily in prayers and annually with the celebration of Passover. Throughout the Bible, God self-identifies with the people of Israel as “the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Deuteronomy 5:6). This single event, whether historical or legendary or a bit of both, has shaped the faith of millions of people, inspiring artists and activists and world leaders for centuries. Never should it be discounted as just a story.
Indeed, these ancient words of liberation – “Let my people go” – first uttered by premodern people in an unforgiving desert, eons ago, traveled over time and space to reach the ears and lips of another enslaved population, laboring in the cotton fields of Alabama, who sang and then shouted back:
“Go down, Moses, Way down to Egypt’s land, tell old Pharaoh, let my people go.”
Few of the enslaved African Americans who first sang this and other Christian spirituals knew the full biblical context from which they emerged. American slave owners had a vested interest in keeping their “property” illiterate, and even free blacks, like Frederick Douglass and Henry Highland Garnet, debated the wisdom of distributing Scripture among the people whose bondage was often justified with citations of Ephesians 6:5 – “Slaves obey your earthly masters with respect and fear . . . just as you would obey Christ.”
The story of the exodus inspired some of the most effective rhetoric of the abolition movement in the nineteenth century and the civil rights movement in the twentieth century, with Moses’ call to “let my people go” echoing with new force from the lips of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, James Weldon Johnson, and Martin Luther King, Jr. In addition, biblical figures like Joseph, who triumphed over slavery, and Daniel, delivered from Nebuchadnezzar’s lion’s den, figure prominently in black music, literature, and preaching, and a single line from Psalm 68 – “Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God” – came to signify God’s promise of a glorious future for people of African descent (vs. 31 KJV). Generations of Christian African Americans have found solidarity and empowerment in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, with liberationist theologian James Cone making a striking connection between the crucifixion of Jesus and the scourge of lynching against black men. And, as womanist theologian Delores Williams elucidated in her landmark book, “Sisters in the Wilderness,” the character of Hagar – an African slave who was brutalized by her masters and forced into surrogacy – serves as a symbolic counterpart to the perilous experiences of many African American women, past and present.
The rich history of reading new meaning into the Bible’s deliverance stories reminds us, that in an effort to understand the unique context from which Scripture emerged and the original audience for whom it was intended, we dare not forgo the long and crucial tradition of sacred appropriation, of allowing these ancient stories to speak fresh life into new, fitting, contexts. After all, Scripture is described as the living Word of God (Hebrews 4:12), which means it remains animated and active, pulsing with possibility.
In the same way, the lines from great literature have a way of transcending their original context to cast light into the contours of a new one, the words of Scripture have been recalibrated and remixed through the centuries to comfort, challenge, and enlighten all kinds of communities of faith.
In other words, Bible stories don’t have to mean just one thing. Despite what you may have heard from a pastor or Sunday school teacher along the way, faithful engagement with Scripture isn’t about uncovering a singular, moralistic point to every text and then sticking to it. Rather, the very nature of the biblical text invites us to consider the possibilities.
“Turn it and turn it,” the ancient rabbis said of Scripture, comparing it to a precious gem,” for everything is in it.”
Of course, this fact that a single biblical text can mean many things doesn’t mean it can mean anything. Slave traders justified the exploitation of black people by claiming the curse on Noah’s son Ham rendered all Africans subhuman. Many Puritans and pioneers appealed to the stories of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan to support attacks on indigenous populations. More recently, I’ve heard Christians shrug off sins committed by American politicians because King David assaulted women too. Anytime the Bible is used to justify the oppression and exploitation of others, we have strayed far from the God who brought the people of Israel out of Egypt, “out of the land of slavery” (Exodus 20:2).
This is why it’s especially important for those of us who come to the Bible from positions of relative social, economic, and racial privilege to read its stories alongside people from marginalized communities, past and present, who are often more practiced at tracing [the] crimson thread of justice through its pages.
They say art should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. I think the same is true for Scripture. For centuries the Bible’s stories of deliverance have offered comfort to the suffering and a challenge to the privileged. Every item on the Seder plate and every line from those old spirituals is a reminder that Scripture never ceases to speak fresh truth, and that when it comes to seeking our common liberation, there is no such thing as just a story.
For this week with the “ear of your heart”: Read Psalm 104:2 and practice Lectio Divina.
“Thought for Extending the Practice”: It is interesting that the creation story in Genesis says that light was the first of the creations of God. Actually, the Bible is full of creation stories and the story in Psalm 104 is said to be the oldest – older than the creation stories in Genesis. Psalm 104 also talks about light. Divinity comes “wrapped in a robe of light.” Is light the primal gift, the radical expression of the Divine presence? Of the creative power or fire in the universe? Is this behind the creation story in John 1 when it is said that Christ is the “Light of the world” and the light and life within all existing things of the universe?
Source for “Thought for Extending the Practice”: “Daily Meditations”, Feb. 11, 2023 – Matthew Fox
An invitation to our virtual participants: Discussion and comments are very much encouraged and welcomed. Online discussions can be held in the comments section in the upcoming post on Facebook for this week’s Deacon’s Reflection which is part of adult formation at St. Francis Episcopal Church.
Closing Prayer – Prayer of Blessing
The blessings of sun, the blessings of moon, the blessings of east and of west, to guide us on the way, to lighten our eyes, to strengthen our will and our loving.
The blessings of earth, the blessings of air, the blessings of fire and of water, to fill us with heaven, to free us with mercy, to stir us with flames of compassion.
May the light of God illumine the heart of my soul. May the flame of Christ kindle me to love.
May the fire of the Spirit free me to live this day, tonight, and forever. Amen.
- John Philip Newell, Praying with the Earth – A Prayerbook for Peace, p. 36.
“Inspired”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2023.