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The Celebration of Human Liberty
a sermon based on Exodus 12:14-42
by Rev. Frank Schaefer

Scripture Reading: Exodus 12:14-42 (NIV) 

14 "This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD -a lasting ordinance. 15 For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat—that is all you may do.

 17 "Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. 18 In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. 19 For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is an alien or native-born. 20 Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread."

 21 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, "Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. 23 When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.

 24 "Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. 25 When you enter the land that the LORD will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. 26 And when your children ask you, 'What does this ceremony mean to you?' 27 then tell them, 'It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.' " Then the people bowed down and worshiped. 28 The Israelites did just what the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron.

 29 At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. 30 Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.

 31 During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, "Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me."

 33 The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. "For otherwise," they said, "we will all die!" 34 So the people took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing. 35 The Israelites did as Moses instructed and asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold and for clothing. 36 The LORD had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.

 37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. 38 Many other people went up with them, as well as large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds. 39 With the dough they had brought from Egypt, they baked cakes of unleavened bread. The dough was without yeast because they had been driven out of Egypt and did not have time to prepare food for themselves.

 40 Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years. 41 At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the LORD's divisions left Egypt. 42 Because the LORD kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honor the LORD for the generations to come.

As an immigrant and relatively new citizen of the United States I think I may have some insights to share about Independence Day that are valuable because they come from an “outside” perspective.   Independence Day offers one of the greatest stories to be celebrated, not just by North Americans, but by all of humanity.  Underneath the cruelty of the North American Independence war lies a story of God's grace and liberation--liberation from oppression, and liberation toward a life filled with opportunity.

The story of the 13 American colonies banding together to cry out against the English colonialism in the middle of the 18th century is reminiscent of the story of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt.

Both groups were curbed in their freedom, exploited, threatened, forced into submission, and denied voice and vote.

Both people groups pointed out the injustice done to them and both asserted their independence.

Both groups were in the minority, and had, humanly speaking, no chance against much more powerful overlords.

Both stories are remarkable stories of God's grace.  They affirm us that God does see the injustice which is going on in the world, and that God encourages all of us to do something about it while promising to be on the side of the oppressed.

The theme that stands out in both of these stories is the celebration of human liberty.  Liberty is a God-given human right. That’s why these two stories are such an inspiration to all people around the world.

The Declaration of Independence states the following at the beginning of the 2nd paragraph:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Freedom is a the right to choose your own path to happiness; this free will is something God has endowed us with and it is often described as the highest and most treasured human property.  God didn't make us slaves, robots, or machines.  He made us rational being who can choose for ourselves.

God-given liberty is what has brought scores of people to this north American nation--people from all over the world and from all walks of life. 

People like the Amish, the Anabaptists, the Quakers, etc.  People that felt their liberty to worship and express their belief was curbed by their governments.  The price these people paid was high--they left their family and friends behind, their lands, their possessions, they risked their lives to get here--but they did it for liberty, freedom--maybe the highest and most treasured human property.

Does that mean that The United States is a perfect nation?  Does this mean there is absolute freedom and equality for all in this nation?  Not really, but perhaps there is a higher degree of freedom and equality as compared to most other nations.  And what makes America special is the ideal of God-given liberty we hold up by our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  But more than an ideal, The United States is trying hard to put this ideal into reality—for its own citizens as well as for the rest of the world and fortunately also has some power to work toward this great ideal.

Conclusion:  What we do with our God-given freedom is up to us.  Many of us who have been born in this nation seem to take it for granted.  Let us be reminded on the privilege we have to be able to execute our freedom of choice. 

But a word of caution as well:  let us also be reminded that God holds us responsible for our choices and that having freedom of choice doesn't mean that all choices we make are good choices. The third point of the part of the Declaration of Independence I quoted earlier is the “pursuit of happiness.”  I'm glad that the drafters of it included the word pursuit, because happiness is not guaranteed to us.

We have the freedom to pursue happiness, but not all pursuits of happiness will lead to happiness.  You may pursue happiness by accumulating material goods, by becoming influential, or rich, and end up a miserable person.  We as Christians should know that the best things in life aren't things.

Let us also remember on this Day of Independence that God has not given us this great freedom to make choices that enslave us to things (materialism), institutions (credit card companies), or addictions. Such choices lead us into a bondage for which we have nobody to blame but ourselves. 

God is calling us to make choices that draw us closer to him, that strengthen our family and friendship bonds, that make us loving and giving people.  And God wants to help us get there.  He wants to be in our lives if we let him.  We have the opportunity in this country to choose all of these good and valuable things, and if we do, God promises us to bless us with a good life.  Happy 4th everybody!