Lenten Sermon Series 1 of 6 ~ “Letting Go…Letting God: Change”
Exodus 13:1-11 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ February 21, 2020
Do you love Lent? I must say, that as we gather on this first Sunday of Lent, I LOVE the energy we commence with. In our own ways, we have all chosen to navigate this season by implementing some form of change in our lives. Some changes occur as people give things up and other changes as people take new things on. And we are all still…happy and positive about these new changes! We may have given up a favourite thing, perhaps…chocolate or coffee or something of that nature. And we are 5 days into this season and we are strong and positive about the changes taken on. Or, we have adopted a new discipline…daily prayer or meditation or avoiding negative thoughts, and we have successfully ticked each day off our calendar. And we are proud of our achievements in these early days of Lent. We are excited to uncover the ways that our transformative God will bring new life for us through these 40 days of change. As we began, don’t you love this beginning time in Lent that brings change?
Changes and Transitions
How do you navigate change? It seems like something we have to do in this Lenten season, doesn’t it? It is the topic of many conversations: ‘Hey Bob…what are you doing for Lent this year?’ ‘Hey Sally, what did you give up for Lent?’ However, we all know that change doesn’t just occur in this season. Change is a constant through life. Seasons change as winter prepares to shift into spring; our relationships change; our family loses loved ones and welcomes new additions; our bodies change as what we can (and cannot do) shifts. There are, indeed, a myriad of changes that we navigate throughout this life. And how we deal with change shapes our identity; informs our joy; guides our path. William Bridges is a notable authority who wrote on change. In his book Managing Transitions, he makes the point that while change may be a given, harmonious transition between these changes is not. Bridges initially wrote for corporations navigating change; however, his research later founded the widely applied concept of “change management”: that art of navigating intentional change as we tend to the transitions that happen in all of us. Change is a given; however, as we soon discover, healthy transitions through change are not.
Our God of transformation
What are the changes you are navigating in life these days? What are the changes you are trying to make? What are the changes you are forced to integrate? Over the coming weeks we are going to discuss how our faith can be a guide that can be used to help us deal with the changes in our lives. This, probably, won’t come as an earth-shattering surprise for people of faith because we view God’s action as that of accompanying God’s people throughout our many changes, don’t we? Think about baptism, one of the two sacraments in our church, celebrating this nature of God….as people are washed of the old and are rebirthed to the new through the waters of baptism. The cross…symbolizing God’s transformational power over death. The stories of God’s liberating ways…releasing the chains of slavery over the oppressed…and letting the captive go free. We follow a God whose nature is that of bringing change! So, it only makes sense that we use our faith as a guide through the changes we go through.
As we consider healthy transitions in our life, we are going to be closely examining the Exodus story, from which Jenny began reading this morning. Theologians speak of this liberation story from Egypt as the ‘backbone of the Hebrew faith’. It, of course, is celebrated each year in the festival of Passover by our Jewish brothers and sisters…and…it is the setting of Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper. The Exodus has become a deep part of our faith, informing how we have come to understand Jesus. And the Exodus starts with one person…Moses. It starts with Moses facing a point of change in his life at the burning bush.
‘Burning Bush’ moments
The burning bush moment for Moses was a deep place of change that he was being called into by God. Have you ever had a ‘burning bush moment?’ You are going about your daily life ~ in Moses’ case, tending his father-in-law’s sheep ~ and God steps in. God uses the ordinary to nudge Moses to consider a journey that was completely unexpected. A fire…a relatively innocent occurrence where people gather, cook food, and tell stories. Yet, this fire was unique ~ somehow God’s presence was fully there at that moment. Have you ever had experiences of God amidst the ordinary? Walking by the water’s edge…tidying up around the house…sitting by the fire…And, at that ordinary moment in his life, Moses was drawn in to the extraordinary and he was forever changed. I believe that we all have ‘burning bush moments’ in life…moments when God intervenes amidst the ordinary, comes amidst the muck and mess of life, and God calls us towards new directions. God calls us towards change. The choice, of course, is how Moses would transition with this change. The choice, of course, is Moses’; the choice, of course is yours…and how you will deal with this change.
Objections and Excuses
Most of us don’t immediately jump at these opportunities for change, do we? We don’t say ‘Oh great…change!!!’ For Moses, he didn’t get too excited about these changes God was calling him to. Do any of us, initially, get excited about the changes? (Oh good…it’s not just me) I began the sermon proclaiming my love for the early days of Lent. And I do so because, as we go deeper and further into Lent, the 40 days of Lent get very difficult. It was no different with Moses, for whom change management was not a strong suit. (remember…William Bridges had not written his book yet) As we continue on with the text, we find that this change from sheep herder to Israelite liberator was not a smooth transition. Moses had some excellent excuses that he employed. In fact, the text records five! I wonder if we can hear our excuses amidst his? The final verse of this morning’s passage records Moses’ first excuse. Moses says to God “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” We know this excuse well, don’t we? Because it is the oldest objection in the book. We are not ‘enough’. Who am I to do this…we object? We do not have enough (you can fill in the blanks) ~ we don’t have enough: wisdom, experience, resources…and the list goes on and on and on. We aren’t strong enough to make these changes in our lives, so we object. How can we possibly accomplish this change that is put in front of us? The mountain is too high to climb. The path is too long. The burden is too heavy. Jenny’s reading did not contain the other excuses, but I suspect you won’t be surprised by them as I give a quick summary. Moses anticipates the doubters and what they will think of this change. He first says to God: “they are going to ask me, ‘What is this God’s name?’ What am I supposed to say to them?”(3:11) And later, he counters: “But what if they don’t believe me or pay attention to me? They might say to me, ‘The Lord didn’t appear to you!’”(4:1). I wonder…who are the doubters and ‘nay-sayers’ that hold you back in your life? We all have them, even Moses did! Who are the doubters and negative people holding us back? Change in our life will require the development of new skills. And while we have been amazed at how we continue to learn and grow at all ages, our inability to make the changes ahead will always seem to be insurmountable at the beginning. For Moses, it was his inability to speak articulately. He objects: “My Lord, I’ve never been able to speak well, not yesterday, not the day before, and certainly not now.”(4:10) And finally, Moses offers an outright plea for God to pass and move to someone else: “Please, my Lord, just send someone else” (4:13). Sometimes, even when our life is crumbling and falling apart, it is the life that we know and are comfortable with…and we just want to stay with the familiar. God…just move on and help someone else change and grow, I’m fine. (as if God, or anyone, ever believes us when we tell them that we are “fine”)
Change is hard
What we are discovering on this first Sunday in Lent is that change is HARD! We learn that Moses’ story is NOT a simple one. It wasn’t a simple one of: meet God at the fire…go back to Egypt…liberate the Israelites…and set the GPS for the Promised Land. We will discover that Moses’ story is one of deep faith, of trust and of conviction. We discover that people who embrace the changes thrust upon them nurture and develop a courageously strong faith. We will find that people who initiate the changes that need to be taken have a profound strength and trust in God. And we will find that contained at the very core of our faith is a spirit poised to guide us through these challenging times in life.
God is with us in our fears What are the changes in your life that you are presently navigating or pondering? The answers to this question will be as wide ranging as the viewers who gather for worship: changes in relationships…loss…physical challenges…not to mention all the changes brought on by the pandemic we are living through. And at the core, what holds us back, of course is…fear. The common thread behind every one of Moses’ excuses lay fear. And for us, there is a lot of fear that accompanies us as we look out upon the changes before us. And to the underlying fear that Moses held, God offers a consistent response: “I will be with you”. To each of Moses’ excuses and fears, God comforted him, saying: “I will be with you”. You don’t have to do this alone…I will strengthen you…I will guide you…I will be with you. It isn’t lost on us that when God sent Jesus into the world, Matthew names him “Emmanuel”, which means ‘God with us.’ And at the end of Matthew’s gospel, Matthew records Jesus’ last words to his followers as “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28:20). We each have a burning bush moment before us. Changes that have been thrust upon us; changes that we (know) we need to make. And in our fears, as we prepare to step towards the Promised Land of tomorrow, we have this wonderful reassurance that we do not walk alone. Thanks be to God.