“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
If you joined us last week, you know that our spring sermon series is based on Rachel Held Evan’s book “Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” Each week we will look at a different type of story that can be in found in the Bible, and what meaning it can have for us today. We started last week with the topic of Origin Stories. That sermon can be found online on our church website and on our facebook page.
This week, we are focusing on the second type of story that Evans writes about in her book: “Deliverance Stories.” The Bible is FULL of deliverance stories—stories which lift up the moments when God hears the cries of God’s people and responds.
What is arguably the most famous of these deliverance stories is, of course, the story of Exodus. According to Evans,
“The tale has long been central to Jewish identity and ethic, recounted daily in prayers and annually with the celebration of Passover. Through 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 as story.” However, it is not the only deliverance story in the Bible. Throughout both the Old and the New Testaments you can find story after story after story of God’s people crying out and God responding. These stories exist to show us that we are not alone in our struggles, even when we feel like we might be.
But God does not do the work of deliverance alone. In the story of Noah and the ark, God equips Noah with the knowledge he needs to save his family. In the Exodus story, God sends Moses and his brother to stand up to Pharoah and lead his people out of Egypt. In the story of Esther, she is the one that God calls to risk her own life to save the lives of her people.
God even came to Earth in the person of Jesus to teach us how to be deliverance people. The gospels tell of Jesus delivering people from oppressive circumstances. In them we read stories of Jesus healing the sick, blessing the poor, and spreading the good news of a God that listens and responds to the cries of the oppressed.
And it didn’t stop with Jesus. Jesus taught his disciples to do the work of deliverance, and as Christians, we too are called to follow the way of Jesus. This means that we too are called to be deliverance people, equipped by God to do the work of advocating for the oppressed in our community.
According to Rachel Held Evans, the thread of divine justice found throughout the Bible has (quote) “been traced by marginalized people throughout the ages, their struggle for freedom sustained by Scripture’s call to honor the poor, welcome the stranger, and liberate the oppressed. For centuries the Bible’s stories of deliverance have offered hope to the struggling—from enslaved African Americans who saw the promise of freedom in the story of the exodus, to pioneering women in ministry who found affirmation in Mary Magdelene’s role as apostle to the apostles, to poor, rural Latin American farmers who resonated with Christ’s declaration that he came to proclaim ‘good news to the poor…to set the oppressed free” and developed a theology of liberation around that theme.”
In fact, the scriptures found in the book of Exodus about Moses and the liberation of the Israelites have been used throughout history to bring hope to the exploited, the marginalized, and the enslaved. One very important example from our own history is the way that this story brought hope to enslaved African Americans.
Not only did it bring a message of hope, but abolitionists also used the story of Moses to write songs of liberation which were coded messages to help slaves find and travel along the underground railroad. According to Sarah Bradford’s biography of Harriet Tubman, Tubman is quoted as saying that she used the song “Go Down Moses” as a code song to communicate with enslaved people in the process of escaping from slavery. She would change the tempo of the song to communicate whether or not it was safe for the group to move forward.
Let’s listen to that song now, and pay attention to how the lyrics have a double-meaning:
(2 minutes 40 seconds) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FcPPCrIJQjI
That song is so powerful, isn’t it? It’s just one example of the many ways that prophetic people throughout history have used the Bible to inspire some of the most effective speeches, literature, music, and preaching of deliverance movements like the abolition movement and the civil rights movement, the movement for women’s rights, the new poor people’s campaign, and so many more.
We can read, be inspired by, and use these stories for good too. Because, according to Rachel,
“Every time we retell stories of God’s faithfulness in the past, whether around a candlelit seder table or under a bright, red-and-white-striped revival tent, we are reminded that if God can make a way for Moses and the Hebrew slaves, for Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, for the grandma living on Social Security, for an alcoholic marking twenty years sober…then maybe God can make a way for me too. Storytelling always has been, and always will be one of humanity’s greatest tools for survival.”
So, like the many who came before us, may we too be storytellers working for justice in our world. Amen.