August 1, 2021
Our reading today comes from the book of Exodus. The book’s namesake comes from this moment – the moment they leave Egypt and enslavement. The word exodus means “a way out.” And yet – as with all stories that involve real movement and honest change – it is not always a clean and tidy story.
As we prepare to hear and reflect on this story’s connection to our own, let us pray
Prayer of Illumination:
Still the racing in our minds, O God, and silence every voice but your own. Speak and we will listen. Amen.
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord.
They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, “Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians”? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’
But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.’
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground.
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.
Okay Jarrett – take a deep breath – just step up and open your mouth and let the words come out. It’ll be fine…seriously, people do this all the time. I mean, what are you afraid of? You can do this!
Right about now many of you are wondering if I forgot how to preach to real, live people in the 16 months since we last gathered for worship together.
Rest assured – I have not. I’ll leave you to determine if I can preach WELL, but I have not suddenly developed a paralyzing fear of public speaking. I won’t lie – I’m a little nervous, first Sunday back and all, but what you just overheard was NOT me psyching myself up to deliver this sermon.
No – what you were hearing is the 16 year old version of me psyching himself up to ask Robin McClenny out on a date.
Hey – John Wilson – if you can hear me up there in the AV booth – if possible I’d invite you to tighten the camera in on Meg’s face right now because she LOVES it when I talk about my high school girlfriends.
Did I say girlfriends…as in plural? Yeah – That’s a lie.
I worked myself up so much over this the first time that I.Never.Did.It.Again. Meg had to ask me out and well, that was that.
Why am I talking about this? I share this with you because it’s important to be honest and say that there are things that scare me. Just like there are things that scare you. It may be different for each of us – but everyone is scared of something.
We all have them – those moments where we stand paralyzed by fear.
Like a child mustering the courage to jump off the diving board – sometimes you walk out to the end of the plank, look down at the water below – and all you want to do is turn around and climb right back down the ladder.
What will happen if I take that leap?
It seems to me that fear is the byproduct of change. It’s what we feel when we stand between the life that we have known and something new that is different…exciting, but still terrifying.
The Israelites have left Egypt; left their chains behind, but with it the only life any of them have ever known.
Mind you, it’s not a good life, it’s actually miserable, but it’s familiar.
And familiarity has a powerful grip.
And now here they are – standing on the banks of the Red Sea. Pharaoh’s army is closing in and the only thing standing between them and a fleet of Egyptian chariots is Moses and a wooden staff. They’re terrified.
They’re on the highest of high dives, staring into the deep waters of some promised, yet unrealized, future.
Should they make the jump?
Or – should they go back?
It’s a pivotal moment.
AND…they don’t exactly get the clearest instructions.
Moses says “Keep Still!”
“The Lord will fight for you, you have only to keep still.”
But the Lord says “Why do you cry out to me? Tell those Israelites to go forward.”
Keep still – Move forward.
Keep still – Move forward
“Well, which one is it, y’all”
These may sound like two very different, very mixed messages, but if I understand the text, I think they are actually closer than they seem.
Moses does say “be still” – but I don’t think he’s talking about their feet. I think he’s speaking to the racing that is happening in every Hebrew heart gathered there by the Red Sea. In essence, he’s saying “don’t be afraid.”
He’s not saying that because there’s nothing to be afraid of – no there’s plenty to be afraid of – Pharaoh is closing in and the only way out is this wave-tossed ocean.
And to be clear – we have plenty to keep us feeling unsteady for years to come and that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.
In all seriousness, if this Delta variant closes the schools again I will seriously cry…ugly cry!
And that’s nothing compared to the truly daunting challenges that face us here in Chapel Hill, the threats we face as a nation and as global citizens.
Sometimes it really does seem as if fear is the one thing that is here to stay.
But the question for us is this: ‘Is it true that the Lord goes before us? Is it true that God can and will bring us through the things that scare us the most?”
That’s the question for those of us who must walk by faith and not by sight.
Can we trust God who says: “Go forward! Fear not – I’ve got you.”
In the Jewish Rabbinic tradition, there is this odd and wondrous tradition called midrash. Biblical stories can be sparse with detail, so the Rabbis would elaborate to make the characters more relatable.
One such story involves a seldom-mentioned Israelite named Nahshon. The story the Rabbis told is that when God told the Israelites to move forward, the waters of the sea had not parted yet. With Pharaoh nipping at their heels, their only alternative was this wave-tossed sea, but there was no sign that anything miraculous was about to take place.
Nahshon, however, was the first to step into the sea.
He waded up to his calves – the water did not part.
He waded up to his waist – the water did not part.
He waded up to his neck – still the waters did not part.
Only when the waters touched his nostrils did they spring up on either side in a stack.
We do walk by faith and not by sight.
We have no advanced guarantees that everything will be okay.
We are standing in this liminal space between the life we once knew that was good and faithful and beautiful…
…and something different that can also be good and faithful and beautiful.
And friends the good news is that we are not the first people to stand here.
So – take a deep breath.
Be still, God says, do not be afraid.
It’ll be fine…the Lord will go before us.
People do – and have done – this all the time.
We can do this.
Let’s wade in…all together now.
Time with Children
Good, good morning my friends – my how I have missed seeing you in this room.
I have three words for you this morning – are you ready for them.
The first word is – You
The second word is – Are
The third word is – Welcome
YOU ARE WELCOME!
It’s been a long time since you’ve gotten up on a Sunday morning and had to put on real clothes, right? Well, because I know this might be a big change I wanted to lead off by saying that you are welcome.
AND – there’s a special note in our bulletin here that is just for you. It’s right here – next to the Time with Children. It reads “God put the wiggle in children! The presence of children is a gift to the church. Please welcome the children around you and offer a smile and a word of encouragement to their families.
I have a way that I think we can make folks smile at you. The note says God put the wiggle in children…let’s show them how we can wiggle. Can you stand up with me – on the count of three. One – Two – Three – WIGGLE! KEEP WIGGLING! WIGGLE LIKE YOU’VE NEVER WIGGLED BEFORE! And Stop – see…I knew they would smile at us.
AND we’ve got many of the wiggles out of our system…not all but most.
I am so glad you are here to worship alongside me – can we pray together
Dear God, thank you for bringing us together.
We are so happy to worship you in this space.
We love you. Help us love one another.
Invitation to the Table
It’s been a long time since we’ve come to this particular assembly of Wood for our Table.
We’ve gathered in the parking lot with engines in idle to celebrate this sacrament.
But no matter where we are, it is always a conduit, if you will, to God’s table.
At God’s table – all are welcome.
So come – whether you have been here many times or whether it has been a long, long time.
Come if this table feels familiar to you and come if it seems foreign
Come all you who have tried to be faithful and come all you who have failed.
This is Christ’s table and he welcomes all who seek to know him more.
We have heard and received the two messages – Be Still and Move Forward.
May the Lord still our hearts when they doubtlessly begin racing in the face of everything that scares us most.
May we move forward, not running this way and then that way chasing solutions that never deliver, but let us move forward with purpose in the direction of God’s promised tomorrow.
May the Lord bless us and keep us every step of the journey. Amen.
Fear may promise to be our constant companion, but God has been with us longer and God will outpace anything and everything that would scare us.