Cutting Coupons?

On page 48 of today’s reading, we see these lines:

Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.

The footnote on the word “redeem” reads

In this instance, redeem refers to rescue from captivity. It can also refer to the payment of the price required to release a guilty person from an obligation.

When we use the word “redeem” today, we’re usually referring to some sort of a discount code or coupon, that entitles us to get a bargain on a purchase. I don’t think that God is shopping for bargain-basement worshippers here (thought it sometimes seems like that’s what he’s getting!) , but I’m also not sure I entirely agree with the interpretation placed on the word in the footnote. Later on in the story, we learn that God claims the first born of all livestock and people as His own. (At least, in the full Bible that’s there. I’m not sure we cover that in “The Story”) The first born of livestock are to be sacrificed to God, but the first born among the children can be redeemed by paying the appropriate price. So, to my mind, “redeemed” means to pay a price to take possession, or lay claim, from the one who currently has a legitimate claim.

Of course, regardless of whether you interpret “redeem” as I do, or as the editors of “The Story” do, there’s still an obvious question: what is “the price” that was paid? It seems that the Egyptians, rather than God or the Israelites, are the ones who paid. They suffered under all of the plagues, up to and including the death of the first born of all, from high to low. What did God pay? As I type this, a couple thoughts come to mind:

  • Forced intervention. If people have free will, then why did God “harden Pharaoh’s heart?” Was the price God had to pay the meddling in His own creation? (I’m not sure that really makes sense, I’m just throwing it out for discussion)
  • The first born of Israel. As I mentioned, God claims the first born of Israel as his own. Perhaps that claim is the redemption cost of the people of Israel

Any other thought on this, or on the topic of redemption in general?

What’s in a name?

When choosing a name for our daughter, we wanted something pleasing to the ear, a clearly feminine yet strong name, something with a meaning that was “big enough” and “good”, a name with some family heritage was preferred, but, most importantly, it would have to have the ability to grow as she grew … We chose the name Kathryn.

There are studies about names and how certain names conjure certain personality types. It’s unclear how much the name we give our children shape who they are. But, names do have a huge influence. There was a time when our daughter was just Katie, then Katiebailey as if it were one name (to distinguish her from the other Katie’s around); in middle school her friends called her Kbit (another story), her teachers called her Kathryn, and, now, she introduces herself as Kate. This past summer she married … and her name changed again … Now it feels weird the ask Siri to call Kate Farmer instead of KatieBailey.

We have already run across a few name changes in our reading of The Story … Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, and Jacob became Israel. Each name says something about their transformation, their life … Who they are and who they belong to.

A few years ago (2006) the General Assembly of the PCUSA received a study on the Trinity which was highly controversial. It was controversial, in part, because of the names it suggested to refer to God, the three in one … All of the names and images were Biblically based. On the way out of the assembly hall just after the vote, I overheard an elder say that we could NOT use any name for God other than the one God chose for himself … referring to the traditional trinitarian formula of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What?!?

First, names are generally NOT things we choose for ourselves … Most of us have been named by our parents, our nicknames have come to us through a person or group of people. The names Father, Son and Holy Spirit were not names God chose, but names the Church gave to God. Secondly, and more apropos to our reading this week … when Moses specifically asks God his name, God resists being labeled … I am who I am, or I am as I will be. He describes himself … I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob … God identifies himself as one of us, but refuses to be limited, defined by the distinction.

Yet, Moses pushes back … How am I going to go to the people of Israel or Pharaoh and say some God said release the slaves? I need a name … I need some way to say which god you are … who you are … We need clarification here.  I can imagine Moses saying to himself: he better have a strong sounding name, a warrior name, a no nonsense name. But God, gives no such name. God’s name lies outside of connotation, or strength, or expectation or definition. God’s name IS. That’s all. And my mind goes right back to chapter one: Let there BE, and there WAS. Moses keeps pushing, and God gives him a name … I AM. Tell them I AM sent you.

The I AM encompasses I WAS and I WILL BE. Can you hear the Gloria Patri ringing now, “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be …”. Both stable and dynamic … always more than we imagine. It’s our smallness that wants to “get a handle” on God. But God is always outside our boxes, our names, and our understanding … Always one of us, one with us, one beyond us.

What names do you often use for God? What other images for God do you like?

Why do you think God resists being named? How do names empower us or limit us?

Assignment 4 … Deliverance

This week we’ll be reading the story of the exodus.  That’s Chapter 4: Deliverance.  For those reading along in your own Bible, the references are: Exodus 1-7; 10-17;  Look for this week’s reflection on Monday Morning.  In the meantime, make comments or ask questions here.  Or on the facebook group page, or on Twitter using the hashtag #apcthestory.