“Our Faith Journeys”
This morning we discuss the story of the Exodus. The Israelites’ journey from captivity in Egypt to the promised land. They had to go through a dry wilderness journey of the desert, learn to trust God and grow to recognize God’s involvement in their future.
We are all on a faith journey. The only way we get to our promised land is by going through the desert too. For there we learn to lean on God, and realize God opens a path for freedom. Let us pray. Loving God, you challenge us once again with your word. Help us leave behind what we need to let go of, to make room for your promised joy. Amen.
The Israelites were in Egypt as refugees, originally seeking food from famine in their own land. Over time, Pharaoh conscripted them to become laborers for Egypt’s big building projects. God heard their cries and called Moses to seek their freedom. God sent plagues. Pharaoh relented and sent them away.
Yet walking out of Egypt towards the promised land also meant walking into the wilderness. They were not sure where to go. Our text tells us the Israelites had two options. The main way to get to the promised land was later called, “The Way of the Philistines.” It was a highway that ran along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea from Goshen, where the Israelites were living, in northeast Egypt. As a heavily traveled trade route, it would have had more plentiful food, water and other provisions along the way. But God led the people south, through the wilderness, where the roads weren’t as nice and supplies were scarce. Just lots of desert. A roundabout way. They had to rely on faith. But then any faith journey relies on God.
When the Israelites arrived at the Red Sea they looked back and saw that Pharaoh had changed his mind and was pursuing them with his army. The Israelites cried out to their leader, Moses, “Were there no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” “It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” I love the irony in these questions. When God parted the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to pass, they were full of more fear than faith.
Eugene Peterson said, “It was easier to get the Israelites out of Egypt than to get Egypt out of the Israelites.” The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. Many wanted to turn back, for at least the Israelites knew what they were getting with the Egyptians. But then, as one scholar put it, humans too often “prefer the misery we know to the mystery of God.”
There is a critical moment in every faith journey when we must look forward or turn back. Being led by our fears means we too often turn around when we run into obstacles.
I look at our national politics and think about the tendency to trade in our freedom for security whenever we are scared.
Or in relationships. I was counseling an engaged couple recently where the relationship was on the edge. It could have gone forward to marriage or backwards to breaking up. One of the parties was seeking what this person admits might be an unrealistically perfect partner. At some point, marriage is a leap of faith. We don’t know exactly what life will bring when we promise to be there in “plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, til death do us part.” There is no perfect partner. Just like there is no perfect church. We have to decide and commit despite our fears.
In the Red Sea passage, our text tells us there was a “wall of water on each side.” Historians believe that the Israelites most likely actually crossed the Sea of Reeds, a swampy area in the northern part of the Sea. The Israelites were able to cross the swampy area on foot, but the Egyptians in their heavy chariots got stuck in the mud. Perhaps the story grew over the generations. But the key point is that the Israelites got through and the Egyptians were stuck.
Looking back the Israelites saw God’s hand in saving them and that gave them strength to keep moving.
Thomas Merton wrote, “Many people leave Egypt, but few of them ever enter the promised land.”
That is because we too often remain trapped by past expectations and fears, rather than looking forward to God’s promised joy.
This is why they needed Moses to tell them, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.” The Israelites could only see danger, but Moses challenged them to look to God.
Moses helped the Israelites see religious truth in their lives. They learned to look at an experience and recognize that God had been in the experience of their journey. They were able to look back and see that God had been there with them.
Once we start looking for God moving in our lives, our faith journeys take on new meaning. Colleagues emerge to give us strength to stand firm. We see how we can be like Moses for someone else. We see God’s hand at work. God is the force shaping your future. Believe it and find joy in God’s promises.
The Exodus journey is a metaphor for the journeys we all make as we set out in faith to follow God towards freedom.
The key is looking tuning our eyes, ears, hearts and souls to seeing what God is doing.
There are things that hold each of us or someone we care about captive. Addictions. Anger. Guilt. Regrets. We are all on a journey.
Each Lord’s Day we get a glimpse of that freedom in worshiping God.
Each Sunday we gather here to let go of the self-importance of the past week. We confess our sins before God. We admit our need for God’s word. We proclaim our reliance on God. We give our lives to God. We praise God for being with us on the roads of life. The Israelites, when they reached the other side of the Red Sea, burst in to praising God. Exodus 15 contains Moses and Miriam’s songs of praise.
Like the Israelites, we may wonder why God takes us on what seems like round-about roads of life? Because in them we realize our need for God.
I spent part of the winter 1997 living in San Diego. I was there with a friend as we had another friend from school who was starting a company and my friend in particular was keen to work on the startup as the company was hoping to launch soon. I just saw San Diego as a good place to spend the winter.
It was the first real month of the company’s existence and the founder was somewhat desperate for help, trying to balance work and finishing school and launching the new company. I was in law school at the time and could have been helpful to the effort, but instead for those 40 days I mostly enjoyed San Diego, especially mission beach.
My friend worked some long hours for the company, while I continued to walk through the sand.
Well, my friend was able to work out quite a deal with the founder, working for only stock options and no cash, which one could do in those early weeks of a company, as the startup got going. And it got going.
Shortly after the company went public in 2007, I heard from my friend who said I might have reconsidered working for the company, whose founder is still CEO twenty years later. Today the company is the largest supplier of software to small medical offices. The company is worth more than $5 billion now and my friend, younger than me, having only worked for six weeks at the company for stock options, is now semi-retired living out west.
At first I regretted my decision. It would almost have been too good to true. For 40 days of work I could have made a lot of money.
Yet there are costs. One partner from that experience in San Diego now bitterly ends a second marriage and looks to pick up the pieces. I look back on the value of my journeys of reflection with God in the sand.
But those 40 days of reflection were important ones for me. Much like the Israelites grew from wandering around for 40 years in the desert, I grew in my wandering around for 40 days in the sand.
For me I had just switched to the public sector and was beginning a journey from business to nonprofit management to public policy and eventually to ministry.
The journey has been excellent. That reflective time helped me grow in faith, in relationship with God and in the clarity of my commitments, in a way I would not have been able to grow if working.
In fact, I drew on that wilderness experience in 2005 in taking some reflective time after leaving a pressure filled job for the calling of a particular church. My experience of 1997 was invaluable in my being comfortable taking that time.
That is because the journey of faith derives from one’s inner work.
Perhaps this morning you are looking at something you need to leave behind. Something you have longed to be free from, but change is so hard.
God is in front of you. God has parted the waters. God is inviting you to walk with God. God calls each of us, whoever we are, wherever we are on our journey —to walk into the future with God.
For we have already gone through the waters. The waters of baptism. So we can walk through the waters again.
When you are on the edge of the desert of your faith journey, you realize there is not a lot in the desert. It is just you and God. But in that is freedom. Freedom to be the soulful person God made you to be.
Freedom not of getting your life to meet someone’s expectations, but by seeing the presence of God in the sand or on the roads. For when you find that closer walk with God, then you are closer to being truly free.
Let us pray. Gracious God, help us find you on our paths, so that we might discover your freedom for life’s journey. Amen.