Young Zacharias was only 8 years old. Everything he knew was Egyptian. He ate Egyptian food. He slept in an Egyptian bed. Even though he was only 8 years old, he worked all day in the hot, Egyptian sun. He was so young, he didn’t really understand all of the things that were happening around him. But the last few days, according to anyone’s estimation, were wild!
Kids, how many of you like frogs? Well, young Zacharias saw more frogs than anyone could possibly imagine. That may sound fun to some of you, but there were frogs EVERYWHERE! In the beds, in the kitchen, on their dinner plates!
And then one afternoon, there was a hail storm. Have you ever been in a really big hail storm? Imagine hail as big as a softball, a basketball. Zacharias remembered seeing all of these things, and then one night it happened.
His mom and dad ran into his room and got him and his brothers and sisters dressed really quickly. They said, “Don’t ask questions...we don’t have time!” Before he knew it, he was out of the house and headed for the desert.
Has your mom or dad every woken you up early in the morning to go on a long trip? Well, that’s what Zacharias’ parents did on the night of the great Exodus. He went to bed a slave. He woke up a member of a mighty and privileged nation. He knew he was privileged, because of what he saw the morning after the great Exodus.
The people of Egypt were not too happy about losing all of their slaves. So, they sent their army after Zacharias and his entire family. And that army chased them into the desert…right to the edge of a huge sea. There was nowhere to go! They couldn’t go back because of the army. They couldn’t go forward because of the water. Zacharias thought he was going to die! But all of the sudden, the water just in front of his feet began to move away from him. And he realized that the water wasn’t just moving away from him in one direction. It was moving away from him on this side and that side. In fact, that water split right down the middle. Zacharias and all of his family walked right across that sea on dry ground. Dry ground! No mud at all!
That was the day Zacharias learned about God.
That was the day Zacharias realized that he had someone watching over him. That was the day Zacharias, for the very first time, realized that God was more powerful than anything else. Zacharias grew up and became a man. But he never forgot that story. A day did not go by when he failed to remember the frogs or the hail or the dry (non-muddy) ground. And when he had children of his own, he told them the story too. And every time he told that story, he said the same thing to his children. “Sons and daughters, this happened not only to me. This happened also to you.”
Church, this is our story as well.
Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord, as you said. Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!” The Egyptians urged the people to hasten their departure from the land, for they said, “We shall all be dead.” So the people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading bowls wrapped up in their cloaks on their shoulders. The Israelites had done as Moses told them; they had asked the Egyptians for jewelry of silver and gold, and for clothing, and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. And so they plundered the Egyptians. The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. A mixed crowd also went up with them, and livestock in great numbers, both flocks and herds. They baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt; it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves. The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years. At the end of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. That was for the Lord a night of vigil, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. That same night is a vigil to be kept for the Lord by all the Israelites throughout their generations. Exodus 12:31-42 (NRSV)
What a night that must have been! I am particularly struck by the last sentence of this text.
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.
The reason I am struck by this sentence is because it seems so counterintuitive to the way in which we live our lives.
We all have defining stories. As Americans we have those defining moments in our history, like the American Revolution. As the people of God, we have those defining moments in our history, like the Exodus or the Resurrection. And because we come to a place like this on a weekly basis, we are (in a sense) forced to recall those parts of our story together. But other than those communal remembrances, our society does not do a great job of remembering our past. Or, more specifically, we do not do a great job of remembering those who came before us.
Certainly, the story I told a few moments ago about Zacharias was a fictional one…but only to a point. The text tells us that there were thousands of people who left Egypt. And it tells us that those people were commanded to relive those moments on an annual basis. Every year, when the family gathered at Passover, they would hear the story again. And I imagine that Zacharias’ great grandchildren included the part about their great grandfather crossing the Red Sea. The people we read about in this book had a way of honoring and celebrating those who came before them.
There are still some civilizations even today that do a good job of honoring those who came before them. Many Oriental cultures show great reverence for grandmothers and grandfathers. In those cultures, when a meal is served, they go about it quite differently than many Americans do. You know what I’m talking about. When the potluck starts here, the children rush to the front of the line. Or the parents of small children rush to the front to fill the plates for their small children. When you visit the house of a friend in our culture, the children are often served first.
Not so in the East. In China and Japan and Korea, they do things in the opposite way. Children are always served last. The great grandmother and great grandfather…they move to the front of the line. There are many things I love about our American, Western culture. But the way in which we fail to revere those who deserve the most honor saddens me. And one of the places where we see this failure is, sadly, in the God’s church. The fact is, we have many older Christians today in God’s church that feel ignored, unwanted, or forgotten.
Here is what I mean…There are many people in this room that have spent their lives in God’s church. Some of you helped start Glenwood over 60 years ago! Some of you helped establish great ministries: schools, children’s homes, foreign missions. I know some in this room this morning were responsible for sending some of the first Christian missionaries to Europe after WWII. To put it plainly, there are many people in this room who have looked after God’s church much longer than I have. And I wish we would do a better job of honoring you, of remembering what you’ve done through the power of God’s Spirit for generations and of celebrating the ways in which you’ve allowed God to use you for His kingdom. Thank you for your long years of service to God and His church. And, thank you for passing on the story to us.
Speaking of passing on the story to us, we have been talking about our Stand @ Home ministry these last few weeks. It’s tempting to think that a family ministry is just about younger people, moms and dads, households with kids still painting walls and eating everything in sight! But the family is much larger than that. I want to encourage our grandparents to continue to engage the lives of their children and children’s children! We need to hear your stories! We need to learn from your wisdom! We need your help! There is a card out at our Stand @ Home center specifically designed for grandparents. If you are a grandparents, I suggest you take one. I hope it will give you some ideas of how to interact with your family in new ways.
Grandparents, I want to thank you for being stewards of God’s family for so long. Just as young Zacharias’ children and grandchildren told the story of the way he was a part of God’s Great Exodus. I pray that your story will be told and retold inside and outside of these walls, and my prayer is that we would all be as faithful as you have been.