This Sunday, rather than readings and sermon, our worship will include a dramatic telling of Moses and the story of the Exodus.
The story as comedy by Pastor Goede
Many of us remember Morrie Niedenthal, the long-time professor of preaching at LSTC and a long-time member of Augustana. Morrie taught a two-quarter preaching series that I still remember from my time as a seminarian, The Gospel as Tragedy and The Gospel as Comedy. We read plays and novels, as well as writers like W.H. Auden, a poet and philosopher who wondered, what it is that makes a comedy a comedy?
For instance, a sitcom isn’t funny if it ends in an act of cruelty. No one wants to watch a movie that just has endless footage of a family struggling day to day with poverty; plenty of us can see that at home. We do like to watch movies where someone struggles against the odds and prevails. The homestead is saved, the family is reunited, the evil boss is thwarted. Everyone loves a story about a hero who overcomes great adversity, like Moses and the Israelites.
What makes the gospel a comedy, Morrie used to say, isn’t that it makes you laugh, but that your expectations are upended, everything is turned upside down. In the end, just like in a movie that makes you happy, justice is served, blighted lives are changed for the better, reconciliation and love and mercy rule the day. Everyone knows that the Egyptian pharaohs were all-powerful in their realms, elevating themselves as gods. When Moses, a Hebrew raised as a prince of Egypt, confronts Pharaoh with God’s message to Let my people go! no one expects Pharaoh to say, sure, no problem. Everyone expects Moses to be crushed, for oppression to continue. But what happens is much more interesting than the story you expect. The movie version has soaring music at the end, because the story of the Exodus is really a comedy, an overturning of expectations and a fulfillment of our hope in the God of justice and might.
When we interpret this Story of Moses in worship this Sunday, there will be no nursery because this is a great story for kids. There will be ways for everyone in the congregation to take part, because this is a great story for adults. The story of the Exodus from Egypt is a story for everyone who lives in expectation and hope that our powerful God will act for us, in a world of oppression and sorrow. In other words, we like a good comedy, a story where an ordinary guy is pole-vaulted against all expectation into a role as leader of his people, hero against the bad guy, faithful man who responds to God’s call to help save the people. Come and see.
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