Lent is traditionally a season of contemplating the Ten Commandments, or words of life. How many of them can you call to mind? Here’s the first:
Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
One of the things about being a vicar, at once fascinating and frustrating, is that people don’t know where they stand in relation to me. They’re forever asking, ‘What should I call you?’ There are formal titles, culturally prescribed — I am the Revd Dr Andrew Dowsett, or Mr Dowsett (but not Mr Andrew Dowsett, nor again Revd Dr Dowsett) — but my name is Andrew. When people ask, ‘What should I call you?’ I answer, ‘Call me Andrew.’ ‘Father Andrew?’ ‘Just, Andrew.’
When God says, ‘I am the Lord ...’ God is actually given this god’s personal name — it is YHWH, or Yahweh — but this was considered to holy to be uttered, and so finds itself hidden behind some formal title put there in its place, when in fact this god comes looking to be known, personally. This god spoke, and said, I am a particular god, my name is Yahweh, and I brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of generational slavery.
Why? Because this is what this god does.
This is the god who freed Abraham from the need to be safe, to become father of descendants as numerous as the sand on the seashore, that liminal strip between the land (symbol of Yahweh’s promises) and the sea (symbol of chaos and rebellion against Yahweh).
This is the god who freed Isaac from the need to compare himself to others, which is the thief of joy.
This is the god who freed Jacob from the need to win, to constrain others, to have the last word, so he might speak first words, releasing others into their destiny.
This is the god who freed Joseph from the need to be special, that all peoples might have enough for life.
This is the god who freed Joseph’s brothers from famine, of grain, yes, and of love, to father a nation.
This is the god who freed Moses from murder, from three attempts on his life (by royal edict, as a new-born and in adulthood; and in a terrifying encounter with YHWH himself) and from the burden of having, himself, become a murderer, to point the people to choose life.
Because this is what this god does, through all generations. And, because every one of us is captive to something, from which we cannot free ourselves, this is the god to know.
What holds you captive?