Lenten Sermon Series 2 of 6 ~ “Letting Go…Letting God: Your Leap of Faith” Exodus 14: 10-31 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ February 28, 2020
Most have heard the famous quotation from Laozi as recorded in the 64th chapter of the Dao De Jing: “a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.” Indeed, even the longest and most arduous paths travelled have that single starting point…the first step. There was that initial decision pondered, that first step considered, and then...finally…the journey is taken. As we find ourselves now into the 12th month of the pandemic, did you ever think about what a long journey we were commencing? Consider the first step you took…and the many, many, many steps since…steps taken to slow the spread, to be socially responsible, and to love our neighbors over this past year. These were all actions and sacrifices which began with that one single step as we moved ahead carefully in challenging times. Taking a ‘leap of faith’ is an extension of this. Soren Kierkegaard warned the church about the danger of getting stuck solely in thinking, and pondering and reflecting. Activity that is entirely focused inwardly, will lead toward inaction and an inward faith. Instead, Kierkegaard, challenged the church to the worldly practice of living an outward faith. He envisioned faith being like the watchman awakening the sleeper, the roll call summoning the soldier, the mother awakening her child. The practice of faith, after all the pondering and praying, requires ‘a leap of faith’, a single first step, in order for it to be enacted and alive in the world.
God’s nature is change Last week we began this journey pondering what it means to live into a spirituality that empowers us to “let go and let God.” And so, we revisited the story of the Israelite exodus from Egypt. And so we began by focusing on embracing “change.” We were reminded in the exodus story, and in our own lives, that change is not a welcome blessing that we necessarily jump up and embrace. Moses’ ‘burning bush’ moment where God called him into a new path of change was not initially welcomed. We remember how Moses came up with a long list of great excuses. He wanted God to pass on to the next worthy candidate. And, alongside Moses’ excuses, many saw our own list of excuses and reservations as we consider our own ‘burning bush’ moments. Change is hard; it is not welcomed; it is not embraced. We do not like to leave the old and usher in the new. Yet, as we were reminded, and as we already knew, that is NOT the way of God! Our God brings transformation and change.
Before we can get ‘there’, we have to leave ‘here’ This morning’s passage jumps us quite a bit further ahead. We move past Moses’ call from sheep herder to Israelite liberator. Moses has returned to Egypt having accepted his new role. And we find ourselves now at the ‘leap of faith’ moment that is about to be taken by all of the Israelites. And as we continue with the story, we are touched by this central spiritual truth: that before we can get ‘there’, we have to leave ‘here’. Before they can get to the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, they need to leave the chains of Egyptian slavery and take that first step…they need to take the leap of faith. They need to decide to leave the familiar. They need to leave home. Leaving home is among the most challenging things to do. We have all done it in the course of growing into our adult lives, and we remember the challenges in leave taking. It is a challenge because ‘home’ is comfortable; home is known; home is familiar. And to leave the comfortable, known and familiar is about giving up our security and taking a leap of faith into the unknown. That is exactly what Moses was calling the tribes to do: to leave their habits and comforts and walk towards the mysterious promise that God had set ahead for them
Faith is about trusting God without knowing where it will lead I wish that this was not the way faith worked, but it is: faith is about learning to trust God first without knowing where it will lead next. Faith is…in a sense…a gamble. It is the best gamble that I believe you can make, but it is a gamble where you must fully trust God without knowing the exact outcome. In 2003, I began serving a church in Burnaby that had a unique history in serving women who were victims of domestic violence. Long before we had government-funded transition homes in communities, rogue groups (like our church) took this ministry upon themselves and provided a sanctuary for women who needed to pack up their children and make an exodus towards the safety of a new beginning. Back in the day, the women and their children would live in the dark, musty basement of our church as they sorted things out and moved towards a new life. And I had the honour of meeting the woman who began this ministry, oh those many years ago. I heard stories of how difficult it was for women to leave these horrible situations because those places of abuse ~ as terrible as they were…were ‘home’. They were afraid to leave the familiar, to venture into the unknown, and even begin to believe that they were worthy, loved and that God had a ‘Promised Land’ for them to go to. Yet, eventually, something happened in these women: a glimmer of hope, a beam of light, a single step towards the God’s promise of change and liberation. I remember hearing these kind of stories and thinking about the kind of faith buoyed each woman’s spirit. A faith that truly trusted God first without knowing where it would lead. A faith that truly trusted God first, without knowing where it would lead
The faith of the Israelite Slaves Looking at the text that David read, I think the down-side of the way the exodus text is is presented is that it offers such a triumphant story over the Egyptians at the cost of glossing over the depth of their faith. David read the text and we sang Herbert O’Driscoll’s hymn recounting the story. Many have seen films with Charlton Heston triumphantly walking through parted waters, or Disney’s ‘Prince of Egypt’ telling the story in full colour. God’s power and might is displayed, protecting the Israelites and squashing the evil Egyptians. The problem with the presentation of all this triumphant drama is that it neglects the deep faith of every Israelite that trusted, that took that first step, that took that leap of faith and walked towards the stormy, threatening waters that lay in the horizon.
The faith of Nashon There is a lesser-known story told of one of Moses’ great leaders, named Nashon. He is only mentioned just a few times in scripture, so we can be excused if we aren’t as familiar with him. Interestingly, Nashon is mentioned a lot in the later Midrash writings (the textual commentaries written by the Rabbis, that have been passed on down the generations). Nashon was the leader of the tribe of Judah, and his task was to lead his group out of Egypt. And Nashon’s story is one of deep faith. In Nashon’s case, the waters do not immediately part as he approaches. Nashon steps into the rolling waters and first gets his feet wet, but the waters do not part. He steps in to his knees, then his waist, then his chest and the water still does not part. It was only when the water reaches his neck, when he is completely vulnerable to the current, that God arrives! God’s arrival occurs after Nashon’s demonstration of deep faith and trust. Nashon demonstrates a faith in God before knowing that God would arrive
Fear and Faith Fear serves us well in many applications. As a primal emotion, it protects, warns and shelters us from danger. However, too much fear can be problematic. It can cause us to forget where we have been; it can cause us to forget what God has brought us through; it can give us an amnesia from the challenges we have bravely overcome. As we look at the Israelites leaving Egypt for this mysterious land of promise God will offer, we are witnessing deep, trusting faith in action. A faith that is less focused on the destination; a faith that is less focused on the map or the GPS. A faith that is entirely informed by dependence and trust in God
A warning against a ‘blind faith’ There is a caveat here that must be highlighted! This text, and this reflection, is not meant to stir us to move in the direction of reckless abandon. And I don’t like this term, but we are not meant to have a ‘blind faith’. We ought to prepare diligently, to plan carefully, to consult wisely, to pray deeply. But, as Kierkegaard warns, we are not meant to get ‘stuck’ and complacent in our analysis and exhibit only an inward faith. We cannot eliminate all the risks. And if the church ran ministry that way, we would still be counting the number of angels on the head of a pin and never actually engage in any form of ‘hands on’ ministry. At the end of the prayers and ponderings, we must wade into the water, leave home, and take that step, that leap of faith and trust that God will guide us ahead. God’s promise is that if we are willing to trust, God will lead. I think that this is the whole point of the next section of the story. We do not know where the path will go, and we don’t need to know! Perhaps that is a good thing? I wonder…if God had revealed the trust needed, the sacrifices required, and the risks ahead…I wonder if the Israelites would have stayed in Egyptian slavery. This story is about faith being a verb! Jesus speaks of this type of trust in teaching his disciples: “I have much more to say to you, but you can't handle it now. However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you in all truth. He won't speak on this own, but will say whatever He hears and will proclaim to you what is to come.” (John 16: 12-13)
Your leap of faith I wonder what leaps of faith you might recall making over your life’s journey? Do you remember the faith that informed and guided them? Your faith was there…allowing you to make those changes that you were called to. And I wonder what changes you are pondering now? Life changes… healing…changes in direction…the ways you might relate to others….the ways you might relate to your community…I wonder what changes God is calling you to make? They may be massive changes that seem to have a ‘Red Sea’ of resistance before you…yet, somehow you are coming to feel that God is guiding your forward. They might be smaller changes…still challenging to make…and you know the time to make them is now. We give thanks for the relationship we have with this God of transformation, whose ways are hope, peace, joy and love; whose name is ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us. And so, we gently move ahead in our lives walking with faith. Thanks be to God. Amen.