* a sermon preached at Luther Memorial Church of Chicago on September 28, 2014 *
Text: Exodus 14:10-14, 21-29
How many of you were camp counselors ever? Summers full of playtime. Maybe some God time, bible study, and prayer in there. Watersports. Arts and crafts. Camp food. Ropes courses.
And who remembers the Trust Fall? Placing a kid perilously 5 feet off the ground. “Ok, now turn around. Yep, back to us. Cross your arms over your chest. Ok, and on the count of 3, you’re going to fall backwards.”
Wait…WHAT?!? Are you serious?!? Uhuhahaha…..no! Not a chance!
Ah, the trust fall… That most dreaded of activities for campers and counselors alike. Nevermind that the kids had to overcome debilitating fear in order to actually fall backwards. But as counselors, we knew that we were one misplaced foot or a heavy kid-vs.-scrawny kid mismatch away from a *SMACK* and a trek over the nurse’s cabin.
Ah, the trust fall….. ***sigh** Man, that thing sucked…
See, the thing about the trust fall is that it teaches us to trust, but doesn’t teach us why we trust. We learn that we need to trust this group of people, but it doesn’t really help us understand why. And this is just one example of why I think we have trust issues. The thing is, we’ve all been burned in the past. “I’ve been in this place before, it feels familiar…and I remember that it didn’t go so well for me last time. Ehhh…you know what? I’m good. I think I’ll pass.” Trust is hard. We say trust is earned. We need a “why.” It’s transactional. We don’t just give trust away. You have to give me a reason to trust you.
The Israelites we hear about in today’s story had trust issues of their own. “Didn’t we tell you to leave us alone in Egypt, Moses? Honestly, it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die out here in the wilderness.” And they had this gem, which I love, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness!” Particularly, notice the sarcasm used here. Sarcasm, like humor or anger, is one method of deflecting that we use when we have trust issues. It’s one way that we try and guard ourselves so that no one knows that, really, we’re scared out of our mind…
Right. Better to face certain death back in Egypt where, sure we were slaves and sure we were beaten, but you know what, at least we had food and water and a place to stay, than to be led out here, wherever ‘here’ is… We trusted you, Moses, and you’ve led us out here to be slaughtered… And this isn’t the last time that the Israelites will question and complain to Moses. All throughout their journey in the wilderness, all 40 years of it, life back in Egypt doesn’t look so bad. The bad places we were in before never look quite as bad when we look back on them, do they?
Hindsight, naturally, is 20/20 and of course it’s always rosy, right…? Glossing over…rationalizing… More mechanisms we use when we have trust issues. We acknowledge that, “Sure things were bad before, but they weren’t really that bad…” The Israelites instantly regretted their decision when they saw Pharaoh’s army bearing down on them. But can they go back? Can Israel actually return to Egypt when their captors were pursuing them to kill them?
The answer, of course, is no way. Once they had made up their minds to follow Moses and to leave Egypt, that was it. The only way was forward. As perilous and unknown as it was. “You asked us to trust you, Moses, and you’ve led us here. Now we’re standing at the edge of a vast expanse of water and the people that we’re running from, the ones you ticked off, are coming with their horses and chariots to kill us. And we literally have no where to turn…”
And right then. Right in that moment of utter fear and despair, when everything seems hopeless, God makes a way. God shows us that our trust isn’t misplaced or misguided. God gives us dry land where there was a sea. God parts the waters and shows us a way even in the most desperate times. Trust is funny like that. Sometimes we get so caught up in the right here and right now, and we only look for God in the really dark moments, and we fail to see that God has been right there with us the whole way, and no way is God going to abandon us, especially now.
God promises a way. And God keeps God’s promises. God always keeps God’s promises.
And sometimes God makes a way and that may not look like what we’re expecting… Remember what Pastor Tim said last week about the community to whom the Torah was written. These stories were for a people in captivity in Babylon. This story of liberation from Egypt is the story of hope for the prisoners in Babylon.
A narrative of hope for a community enslaved.
A persecuted people that needed desperately to hear that God has not forsaken them, and freedom might not come tonight or tomorrow, but God has promised to be with us, and God keeps God’s promises. By providing a dry way between walls of water, God soothes our raging fears, and promises to walk with us. God keeps God’s promises.
And later on down the road, God will bring calm to the storms of our lives again. Only this time, we have a bunch of disciples huddling frightened in a boat, and instead of parting the water and making a way through it, Jesus just walks on top of it…..
And we’re invited to get out of the boat too…
See, we have trust issues, and ultimately, we can’t just be told how to trust, we have to be shown. This is why the trust fall, while not so good at teaching us why we trust, is ultimately a helpful exercise. It’s one thing to be told to trust, but we need to be shown. Jesus shows us what it means to trust in God. Jesus stands in our midst, behind locked doors, and just like Moses said to the Israelites, implores us, “Do NOT be afraid. Nothing in this world can separate you from God; not even death. I am Resurrection. I am Life.”
Trust in God is going to the places that we are called, even if it’s unpopular and goes against everything the world tells us. Trust in God is meeting, caring for, and loving those that the world says are less than. Trust in God probably won’t make you many friends; it may even make you a few enemies. It’s the way of living your life in complete service of the other. It’s the way of giving of yourself so your sister and brother will have life and have it abundantly. It’s the way of laying down one’s life for one’s friends. It’s God giving of God’s own self, even unto death, so that world would be saved.
“Trust in God” is nice tagline. It looks great on Hallmark cards. But there’s not much substance, is there? In spite of our best ideas about ourselves, we want…we need something real, something tangible. That’s what the Israelites were looking for, and God had given it to them. They had each other, they just couldn’t see it. The Israelites have an entire community on which to rely. A community with shared experiences and shared narratives. A community that truly knows what each other is going through.
You may be looking for that around here at Luther. We’re in the midst of some exciting times. Exciting, but also frightening. Or you might be visiting today, and just the sheer thought of all these strange, new people in one place is equally as frightening. Things are changing, and that might make us a little uncomfortable. You might be seeing all these conversations about kitchen renovations, and cottage meetings, and preschools, and who even is this new guy standing up here and preaching today…? Or you might be thinking about yourself at home, pouring over bills, over-scheduled, over-worked, wondering how you could possibly deal with just one…more…thing…
We do have trust issues, and sometimes deservedly so. Sometimes it can feel like we’re being sent out from our comfortable places, only to find ourselves staring at a vast sea with an army bearing down on us from behind. It can be terrifying when we see these walls of water that could come crashing in at any time. Trusting in God can make us feel isolated, claustrophobic…until…we remember that we’re walking this journey together. God gives us each other. We can trust that.
So trust in the God of promises.
Trust in the God that keeps promises.
Trust in the God that promises to be with us always, especially when things get dicey.
Trust in the God that promises to know us so fully as to walk among us as human.
Trust in the God that comes to us in the one who is called the Christ and says, “Here let me show you….. Here is my body, here is my blood, given for you and for the world, so that all will have life.”
We can trust that.