Thursday, September 8, 2016

On the 15th Anniversary of 9/11; Exodus 14:19-31 sermon

Rev. George Miller
Exodus 14:19-31
Sept 11, 2016

It was a third grade classroom, full of nine-year-old kids trying to figure out where they fit in.

Tommy is especially worried. You see, a puddle emerged between his feet and the front of his pants was wet. He is nervous and ashamed that this has happened to him.

In five minutes, class will be over and he’ll have to stand up, and they will know. They will all know.

When the boys find out he’ll be teased endlessly and given a cruel nickname. When the girls find out none of them will speak to him again.

He doesn’t know what to do. The teacher begins walking his way. He’s afraid that he’ll be found that.

That’s when Susie comes toward him; she’s carrying the goldfish bowl filled with water. She trips in front of the teacher, dumping the bowl of water onto Tommy, drenching him.

Now, instead of being shamed, Tommy receives help. One classmate offers Tommy an extra pair of sweats; other classmates help the teacher clean up the mess. Susie is teased but blows it off with a joke or two.

Finally, at the end of the day, as they are waiting for the bus, Tommy walks over to Susie and says “You did that on purpose, didn’t you.”

Susie nodded her head and whispered back “I wet my pant once too.”

…I don’t know about you all, but this whole year I’ve been feeling a bit like Tommy. A bit worried, on edge, not so sure what to do.

Not because I have wet my pants, mind you, but because of what this year has had its share of-

presidential debates, police shootings, the PULSE murders, extreme weather, political strife, racial tensions, stress over Zika, arguments over who can and can’t use bathrooms, and concern over a football player standing, kneeling or sitting.

I don’t think I’m the only one who is feeling a bit like Tommy.

It can be sensed in social media, the press, TV and conversations amongst friends.

Not to mention today marks the 15th Anniversary of 9/11. A day we can not avoid; a defining moment of time.

Since then we’ve witnessed two wars, Hurricane Katrina, the recession, the earthquake in Haiti, and the phenomenon of Pokemon Go!.

Lots and lots of things that can keep one paralyzed in their chair.

We could pretend the events of 9/11, or Sandy Hooke, or the murders at Mother Emmanuel Church, or Pulse never happened, but it would be dishonest.

We could use the events of that day to judge and condemn others, but that would be unchristian.

We could focus all our spiritual energy on rehashing the day the Towers fell, but that would also be self-abusive.

So I am grateful that today we have an opportunity to do something that is really none of the above; we get to each be a Susie, but instead of doing so via a goldfish bowl, we’ll get to do it through one of the most powerful scriptures there is.

It’s fitting that today we get to explore a scripture that is so elemental to the Old Testament and to our faith in general: the crossing of the Red Sea.

To catch you up on things, the people of God were enslaved by the Egyptians, oppressed and forced to do hard labor.

And through a series of events, Moses is called by God to deliver the people from their oppression.

Moses balks at the idea; the responsibility seems too great. But God prevails, and Moses becomes the voice and the vehicle for God to deliver the people.

Through a series of signs and wonders, Pharaoh agrees to let the people of God go.

But before they can get too far, the Pharaoh has a hardening of the heart, and decides to unleash his wrath. He orders over 600 chariots and an army of men to chase the Israelites down.

As they draw near, the people cry out, afraid they will die where they stand; blocked off by the waters of the Red Sea with nowhere to run.

Moses says to them “Don’t be afraid, stand firm and see how God will fight for you.”

As the Pharaoh approaches, as the sound of horses’ hooves and chariot’s wheels descend upon the men, women and children of God, there is a moment in which nature, the Divine and humanity work together.

Moses stretches out his hand above the sea, God drives back the waters to create a wall and the Israelites walk through on dry ground.

Could you image that? Can you imagine facing almost certain death; the watery chaos, the sense of no way out?

Then, can you imagine seeing the Red Sea parting, an act that defies description and expectation?

Can you imagine watching the events unfold as a way is made through no way; a way is made through to the other side, in which the land is dry?

Would you be brave enough to walk through? To step out on faith, knowing two walls of water surround you?

Could you trust that God would prevent the walls from tumbling down?

And yes, the people make it through to the other side, to freedom, to new life, and their enemies are vanquished.

This is a story for the ages, and it is a story for all people, because we have all had our own Red Sea moments.

We have all faced times in which there seemed no way out.

We have all faced times in which certain defeat seemed the only option.

We have all faced times in which we could hear the sounds of horses’ hooves and chariots descending upon our back.

We’ve all faced the threat of going backwards to a place we do not want to go.

We have all had our back against the Red Sea in which we are left facing our enemy, be it oppression, illness, poverty, injustice.

This story becomes that universal testimony about how someway, somehow, God acts, God moves, God responds.

That somehow, in ways we can not always expect or fully understand, our Lord has a way to part the waters.

That although the waters of chaos may remain on our right and on our left, ready to crash down at any point, we can find a way through, a way through to dry ground.

It doesn’t mean there won’t be other waters to face, it doesn’t mean there won’t be other enemies to worry about, but it means that through the help of God and the help of one another, we make it through.

Today, as a nation, we have an opportunity to look back upon the events of 9/11 and to realize that as horrific as those events were, as much as they have left deep wounds, they have not completely drowned us or destroyed our resilience.

Today, as a church, we have an opportunity to come together as one to praise God through scriptures, prayers and song.

Today, as individuals, though our offerings, we get to stretch out our hands by participating in giving to the ministry and mission of our church.

Next week, we get to once again feed over 100 hungry families that are seeking reprieve from the waters of hunger and threats of defeat.

Like Susie in the story told earlier, we have a unique way to help.

But instead of dumping fishbowls, we have a chance to offer our community, our local families a spot of dry land.

We do that through the way we worship. We do that through the programs we offer.

We do that through the ministry of the Shepherd’s Pantry, the Diamond CafĂ©, Vacation Bible School, and our upcoming trip to Back Bay Mission.

Today we heard about a defining moment in Israel’s history, of a moment in which they could have been swallowed by the waters or destroyed by their enemy.

But God, through the actions of Moses, saved them and they were delivered.

We too have all faced our own raging seas; we have each experienced how God has parted them and lead us through.

So, as we recall a day that was so tragic, let us embrace the opportunities we have had throughout the year to help others.

For in all we do, our gifts and our time can help others find a way from uncertainty to hope, from despair to a tomorrow.

In all we do, our gifts and our time reflect the ways in which the goodness of humanity can overcome the evil that some may do.

Let us give thanks to the Spirit, which is the breath of God, to Jesus Christ, who embodied God’s love and to our Creator who leads us to dry land.

Amen and amen.

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