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God's Call to End Oppression
Based on Exodus 3:1-15 and Romans 12: 9-21 (Year A, Proper 17)
The Exodus scripture is a familiar one. It tells of God’s call to Moses to deliver the Israelites from Egypt where they are oppressed and forced to labor for the pharaoh.
Moses was born the son of Israelites and grew up in Egypt in the household of the pharaoh. But after killing an Egyptian who was beating one of his fellow Israelites, Moses flees the country, ending in Midian. There he marries, fathers a child, and tends sheep for his father-in-law. Years pass. Life is good. Maybe Moses forgot, or tried to forget, his previous life in Egypt and the oppression of the Israelites.
But God had not forgotten and God won't let Moses forget either. Speaking out of the burning bush, God tells Moses, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians.” God is going to deliver them but Moses is going to do a lot of the work. And he is reluctant: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites of the Egypt?” Exactly. Who would not have said the same thing? But God replied, “I will be with you.” And so Moses went. The rest is history and also a very good illustration of God’s vision for God’s people: liberation from bondage and freedom from oppression including oppression in the workplace.
Like other people in the Hebrew Bible who are called by God for a special task (Jonah, Jeremiah), Moses was reluctant to answer yes. But he did, with the assurance of God’s help and constant presence. Today God continues to call God’s people to action, and continues to provide help and a constant presence to those who respond.
God may call us more often than we realize or want to admit. The call may, rarely, come in the life-changing, awesome moment when we see a burning bush that is not consumed. But God’s call might also (and maybe more often) come as a soft nudge, a gnawing urge, a quiet whisper that maybe, just maybe, we ought to do something about a particular problem. The quiet, more frequent, but much less dramatic calls are easy to ignore. Is it God? Do I really need to? How can I fit more into my busy life? How can I say yes? Does it help to remember that God will be with us, to see us through, that God expects us to find time for God’s priorities?
In the passage from Romans, Paul encourages us to get involved, to follow these gentle urgings. “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” In an unjust world, in a nation with millions living in poverty, genuine love demands our involvement. Loving our neighbors means standing with people on the margins who seek a better life for themselves, the life that is God's intention for them.
In the U.S. today, 47 million people (nearly one in seven) live in poverty and over one third of us (some 106 million people) live below twice the poverty line,[i] the amount that many researchers think is a minimally adequate income level. At the same time, there are 1,591 billionaires[ii] and 7.1 million[iii] (or 8.4 million[iv] or 9.6 million[v]) millionaires, depending on whose study you read. Over one in seven people in the U.S. is receiving food stamps that provide, on average, less than $1.50 per meal, per person. The dire statistics go on and on. Some 9.5 million people are unemployed.[vi] Millions more are jobless but have given up looking for work and, therefore, are no longer counted among the unemployed.
Over one-quarter of all jobs in the U.S. (28%) pay poverty-level wages, so low that a full-time worker cannot keep a family out of poverty.[vii] In 2013, 42% percent of Hispanic workers, 36% percent of black workers, and 23% of white workers earned poverty-level wages.[viii] Read about the difficulties faced by young workers. Learn about wage theft, the common practice in which employers fail to pay workers all the wages they earn.
The federal minimum wage, $7.75/hour, has not increased in five years. Some states or cities have a higher minimum wage (check your state) and in a few places the minimum wage is nearly high enough to support people at a meager, but adequate, standard of living. But in most locations, the minimum wage needs to be raised. Corporate profits are at record levels (more). Corporate giants can well afford to raise their workers’ pay.
The United States is a wealthy country. There is no justification for poverty, oppressive work conditions, or lack of opportunity. Things do not need to be this way. Our involvement could make a difference. Do we feel a gentle urging to get involved? Are we called to support fast food workers, Wal-Mart employees, and others who are marching and striking for living wages? (See organizations in your location who invite your participation.) Are we called to stand with immigrant workers without papers who are easily abused? Can we pressure Congress to raise the minimum wage? Is our congregation called to be an Economic Justice Church? What else might God be calling us to do?
The world today is a very troubling place for anyone concerned with justice. Can we doubt that God is calling us to get involved? Let us seek to “overcome evil with good.” Let us follow Jesus and walk with those on the margins, knowing that God walks with us.
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