Slaves or prostitutes?
Exodus 17: 1-7. John 4: 5-42.
Hands up those who remember an 1980’s series called The Equalizer? Can you remember who starred in it?
Yes, Edward Woodward.
Well last week I noticed that they had made a film of the series starring Denzel Washington,also called The Equalizer.
Now I love films. I am used to suspending my disbelief if I like the story.
I will gladly believe that something needs to be just coincidence to speed the story up a bit.
But this film kind of took the biscuit.
There is this girl who is in trouble with the Russian mob.
And the only friend she has is this old man she meets in a late night cafe at 2.00am in the morning.
Neither of them can sleep at night.
So she goes to the cafe to get some coffee, and the old man goes to read his books.
And that is how they meet.
So what does the old man do?
He works in a big hardware store like B & Q.
Which is fine because a lot of old folk work there.
Except...that he wasn’t always an old man working in a hardware store.
He used to be a mega-covert CIA type agent that would go round the world killing all the bad guys. He was a super-highly-trained killing machine that had decided to give it all up and work in B & Q.
And even I thought to myself...that’s pushing the coincidences a bit.
If you were a super-highly-skilled killing machine that wanted peace and quiet why would you go to work in B & Q?
Then I went to B & Q.
Have you seen those old people who work there?
They all look calm. Think about it, they are surrounded by drills and saws and nail guns and things that can kill in hundreds of ways...and they aren’t bothered. It’s as if they are surrounded by old friends.
The Equalizer is not meant to be a thinking film.
It’s meant to be an action film.
But there is a sad undercurrent, that I don’t think is meant to be there.
Denzel Washington, believes he can change. That he doesn't need to be a killing machine. He thinks he can be a nice old man working in B & Q. But the truth is that others have made him a killing machine, and he always will be.
I think that is the message of today's passages.
Or rather I think that is the lie that the Bible is trying to break.
We have people that believe they are what they are and always will be.
They dream that they can change...but they don't believe the dream.
And so they will always be what others say they will be.
Like in our first passage...
The people of Israel have been freed from slavery in Egypt.
Moses has freed them and taken them into the wilderness and is heading towards the Promised Land.
Moses is an experienced shepherd in this region, he knows where he is going, he knows what he is doing.
And the people get thirsty.
This is a people who need to become a nation.
This is a people who need to run a country.
They need to organise themselves into farmers and soldiers and administrators.
But this is a people who for years have been defined by other people as slaves.
They had no names except the names that others gave them.
They had no food except when others gave them that food.
They had no water unless others gave them the water.
They worked when they were told to work, they rested when they were told to rest.
Pharaoh has told them what to do and when to do it.
God has given them the freedom to be anything they want to be,
they can learn and grow and mature,
they can reason things out and work things out,
they can search and discover.
They have the freedom to do anything they want, but there is one problem...they want to be slaves again.
The people don’t say to Moses, ‘Where can we find water?’
The people don’t say to Moses, ’What are we supposed to do to get water?’
The people say to Moses, ‘Give us water to drink. You are the Pharaoh now. Your job is to supply what we need and we do everything you tell us to do.’
How do you break that belief that you are no more than what others tell you you are?
Our second reading is much the same...
There is a woman. Effectively she is a prostitute.
But that doesn't quite describe her background.
I imagine that once she was married. It didn’t work out, so the husband divorces her.
Now in those days divorce was really easy...for a man.
All he had to say was, ‘I divorce you.’ three times, and you were divorced.
Now a woman could never divorce a man.
The man could beat her up. The man could abuse her any way he wanted.
The man could have affairs.
But she could never divorce him.
He didn't need to worry about her having an affair. Once she married the man then she lost her freedom. She wouldn’t be allowed in the company of other men without the husband there.
But if she didn't supply him with a son, if she insulted his mother, if she burnt his dinner, those were all grounds for divorce.
So what happens if he divorces her?
Well it’s fine...if she has a father that is still alive to take her back in, and if the father is willing to take her back in.
The father may regard her as having dishonoured the family by not being a good enough wife. So if the father isn’t willing to let her back in the house then she has to get a job...only there are no jobs for women.
So what does she do to prevent herself from starving?
Where does she go to sleep, as a woman she is not allowed property?
Without a man to protect her she is vulnerable to anyone and everyone who comes along.
So she marries someone else, anyone else.
She ends up being used by anyone and everyone that wants her.
She is convinced that she is nothing...because people have been telling her that for years.
And that ends up with her going to get water in the middle of the day with no one to accompany her, no one to protect her, because everyone, including herself, believe that she isn’t worthy of protection.
And in a small town, like where she lives, everyone has the same opinion of her, she is what she is and she will never change.
She is like an ugly pet that the children pass round each other until they are fed up and bored of her and then they dump her and move her on again.
How do you break that belief that you are no more than what others tell you you are?
That is still a problem today.
Every Friday night I see children who are already on a dark path. And the reason they stay on that path is because it is the only path they know. People have been telling them that they aren’t all that clever or smart or good, that they will do what they do and that is it.
Teachers may have given up on them.
Their parents may have given up on them.
So why shouldn't they give up on themselves?
And we are just as bad.
We are told that the Church of Scotland is dying.
We know that we don't have enough ministers.
Between the ministers that have left congregations because they have gone to another church, and those that are off with stress and illness,...nearly a third of our churches in this presbytery are without a minister.
We need people to take services, to visit the sick, and so many people just won’t do it, because they aren't smart enough, not like ministers.
I was at the fraternal last week, trust me most ministers aren't that smart.
They have the same amount of gifts and flaws as everyone else.
The truth is that all of us are ministers, all of us are called to share and help others.
But we don't believe that, because for years the church said, others said, that ministers were the be all and end all, and churches couldn't survive without a minister.
Even our language betrays us.
If a church doesn't have a minister it is called...vacant.
If you want to know what that means, look at any teenager.
At one point I had three teenagers and any time I asked them to clean their bedrooms there was a vacant look of sheer incomprehension that went through their faces.
That look supposedly describes what a church is like without a minister.
But what if that church doesn't have a Sunday school teacher, or a session clerk, or a greeter at the door...there isn't even a name for that, because they aren't important enough to give them a name. Because we believe it doesn't matter if they are there or not there.
The truth is.
We ask ourselves the question all the time.
‘Who do you say that I am?’ and then define ourselves by that answer.
And that’s OK.
That’s OK because we are relational people. Others are important in our life.
Father defines my relationship with my children.
Husband defines my relationship with my wife.
Friend hopefully defines my relationship with others.
But how do we prevent those titles or names abusing us.
How do we prevent the names we are called by others, the names that we are defined by, being ‘slave’, or ‘worthless’, or ‘unimportant’ or ‘meaningless’?.
With the Israelites it came by meeting with God himself.
With the woman at the well it came by meeting Christ.
Because God defines us differently than others.
God looks on us differently than others.
To God we are precious, because He knows how long it took to create us.
To God we are worthy, worthy enough to send his own Son to teach us.
To God we are loved, loved enough to sacrifice everything for.
To God we are understood, because he has watched us, he has seen our motives;
he has seen the fears behind our bad decisions,
the greed behind our selfish decisions,
the hopes behind our sacrifices,
the love offered to others both accepted and rejected.
We are as precious as the one who values us most.
So who are we?
Slaves or prostitutes...or something different?
Who are we going to be?
The person others think we are or should be, defined by the jealousies and uncertainties of others?
The person we think we should be, defined by our insecurities and our doubts?
Or the person God wants us to be, defined by a God who knows us and loves us?