Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sermon for 09 18 11; Exodus 16:2-15

Rev. George Miller
Exodus 16:2-15
“Muddy Sandals”
Sept 18, 2011

Years ago, I was having one of those weeks; actually more like one of those months. The local rabbi who knew about the funk I was in, shared with me a bit of Jewish Midrash.

It goes a little something like this: the Israelites were being led by through the Red Sea. It was an amazing experience. A wind sent by God pushed the waters back, creating a path for the people to walk upon.

There was an older married couple in the group. Rhoda looked around in awe.

“Look, Moesha!” she exclaimed. “Look at what God has done for us. Isn’t it the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen? Look at the water and the land, look at all the sea life and seashells all around us!”

“Yes,” said Moesha, half-heartedly. “But look at my sandals,” he complained, pointing down to his feet, “Look at how muddy they are!”

Oh, how I enjoy that story; oh, how I can relate to that story.

How many of you here have been a Moesha or know a Moesha?

We know the type, easily forgetting about the difficulties of the past to focus on a problem of the present.

A miracle can happen, a dream may come true, and instead of rejoicing they’re quick to point out what could have been improved.

I’ll give you two recent examples. After years of dealing with broken down cars, I finally have a nice, new car that has so many luxuries. For the first few months it was marvelous.

Then I begin looking around. But my car is not that color, or it’s not that make or the radio doesn’t do this or the seats don’t do that.

Shoot, I use to drive with no air conditioning and only one working speakers, but now I’m acting as if my car has muddy sandals?


Or my new home. All my life I’ve had a love affair with the water and wanted to have a porch. Now I have both.

Am I completely happy? No: because since it’s summer it’s too hot to sit on the porch. I look out at the water but don’t walk down to the shore because it seems too far. Or my house isn’t as big as the homes on Lake Jackson.

Shoot, there used to be a time when I lived in a studio apartment the size of my living room with no working shower, and I’m acting as if I live in muddy sandals?


But you know what? I doubt I’m the only one. It’s human nature, isn’t it? To always want more then you have, to look at what others got that you don’t have, to never feel 100% satisfied.

It can be destructive to have a muddy sandals perspective. Nothing is ever right so there’s no satisfaction.

…at that same time, under the right circumstances, a little bit of the muddy sandal mentality can be helpful.

Many of the most successful entertainers and business folk are the ones who are never satisfied, never complacent, who don’t just settle for being number one.

They use their muddy sandals as a source of inspiration to do something big, something new and unheard of.

Take Walt Disney, for example. He could have stayed satisfied creating cartoon shorts, but he used his muddy sandals to create the first feature-length cartoon, then live action movies, then documentaries, then TV, then amusement parks, always evolving.

His discomfort with muddy sandals led to new technologies and allowed his company to branch out onto Broadway, radio, cruise ships.

To go out on a limb, Jesus found a way to do this as well.

Jesus may have first come to share the Good News with the Jews, but it eventually extended to the Gentiles.

He may have begun by calling 12 men, but his ministry grew to include women and to touch the lives of thousands of people.

And through the cross and the miracle of the resurrection, he was able to create a ministry that transcended space and time.

But I digress; back to the Scripture at hand.

If you recall, last week we talked about the crossing of the Red Sea. How God took a group of enslaved people, and under the leadership of Moses, set them free.

And just as they were about to be captured or killed by the Egyptian army, God found a way to part the waters so the people could pass safely through, muddy sandals and all.

But as we hear in today’s reading, something happens once they get to the other side; a new reality settles in.

The people realize that being saved from one obstacle does not remove all the other obstacles, for instead of seeing the promised land, what they see is miles and miles of…wilderness.

Empty, vast, daunting wilderness. Where are the Targets? The Best Buys? The Whole Food Markets?

There’s none of that, not even a Quickie Mart.

The wilderness is not what they expected, so in the throes of disappointment, their fears take over and they begin to complain, murmuring against Moses, their Commander in Chief, and Aaron, his co-Commander.

What are they going to eat? How will they get carbohydrates to give them energy; how will they get protein to give them strength?

Although they are not complaining to God, God hears what they are saying; and in this particular case, God finds a way to swiftly respond to their needs.

God gives them bread from heaven, and succulent quails to feast upon.

But before that happens, Aaron is told to tell the people to draw near the Lord, who has heard their complaints.

Then, as verse 10 states “…as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.”

I would like us to pause here for a moment…

The wilderness is a place of vast uncertainty and emptiness that can test one’s resolve.

Other words for wilderness can be dessert, a wasteland, a lonely place, not necessarily the kind of place where people want to be.

Nor the kind of place, like a mountain or a garden, in which one would expect to see the Glory of God.

But in the wilderness, where death seems to prevail, how could God possibly exist?

But God does, and not just God, but the Lord’ glory which bears the promise of food and of rest.

Note how this particular sighting of God’s glory came about. It was not from saying “Look at the water and the land, look at all the sea life and seashells all around us!”?

No, it came from the whole congregation of people murmuring “Look at how muddy our sandals are!”

…I think there is something we can learn from this scripture today, which is that it is OK to complain to God; it is OK to raise a murmuring voice, and it is OK to remind God of what we need, when we need it.

Which I realize goes against some of the popular mentality and theology of the American way.

My great-grandma was one of those people. You know the kind: you don’t complain. You accept what you got. It’s better to laugh otherwise you’ll cry. Except… I can’t ever recall her truly laughing.

There is the common notion you hear about how one should accept their circumstance; to “suck it up,” don’t complain. Think of all the others who have it worse. That God won’t give you more then you can bear.

But sometimes you can’t suck it up. Sometimes you got to complain.

Some situations are the worse thing a person can face

And far too many people are indeed weighted down with burdens that really are more then one can bear.

And when those things happen? When someone finds themselves on the other side of the Red Sea without any so-called food to eat, what can one do?

Today’s scripture would suggest to murmur. Cry out. Raise your voice. Point at your muddy sandals.

Why? Because it may just be the crying out that creates space for God to act and for God to be revealed on the horizon in a way that is so unmistakable, so reassuring, that one is empowered to move ahead.

Jesus cried out from the cross and he experienced the resurrection.

Jonah cried out and he was spit up from the belly of the whale.

The Israelites cried out and they found God in a cloud and bread from heaven.

What can we experience from the Lord if we too cry out to be heard?

Are you feeling like you are lost in the wilderness-cry out!

Is it spiritual nourishment you need- cry out.

If it’s new opportunities that you need- cry out.

If it’s healing or safety-cry out.

It it’s resurrection that you need- cry out.

Let God hear, and maybe, just maybe by complaining about our muddy sandals the Lord will give us what we need to continue moving forward.

For those of us today who feel like we are lost in the wilderness, it is Ok to murmur, it is Ok to acknowledge your muddy sandals.

But after you do, lift up your gaze to the horizon, and prepare to see the ways in which the Glory of the Lord will manifest before you.

Because God is just that good.

And maybe, just maybe, that can turn our murmuring about muddy sandals into smiles of contented joy.

For that we can we can say Hallelujah and amen.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sermon from 9/11; Exodus 14:19-31

Rev. George Miller
Exodus 14:19-31
“Finding Dry Land”
Sept 11, 2011

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 week 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 week has been building up to.

I don’t think I’m the only one. I sense that in my neighbor, in my brother, in the collective community conscious that’s been created via print, television and internet.

It’s here: 9/11; the 10th Anniversary. A day we can not ignore or avoid; a defining moment for an entire decade.

What a decade it has been with not one but two wars, Hurricane Katrina, the elections, the recession. Lots and lots of things that can keep one paralyzed in their chair.

We could pretend the events of that day 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 this afternoon, but instead of doing so via a goldfish bowl, we’ll get to do it through change jars, fellowship and a chance to help one family experience drier land.

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.

Instead of dying away, they multiply, which scares the Pharaoh, a man ruthlessly evil and cruel.

He orders the baby boys thrown into the Nile, but a mother finds a way to protect her son and he grows into a man named Moses.

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

“I have heard their cries and I know their sufferings and I have come to deliver them and bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey.”

“And it is you who I will send to Pharaoh and it is you who will bring my people out of Egypt.”

Moses balks at the idea; the responsibility seems too great and he comes up with reasons as to why not. But ultimately God prevails, and Moses becomes the voice and the vehicle for God to deliver the people.

Through a series of intense meetings coupled with signs and wonders, the evil 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 he decides to unleash his wrath. He orders over 600 chariots and an army of men to chase them 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 the deliverance of the Lord who 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, and a way is made through no way; a way is made through to the other side, in which the land is dry?

Yes, the enemies are vanquished, the people make it through; their footing assured; and they safely make it; together.

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 to go back 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 and that although they 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 bodies of water 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 raise funds for ShelterBox, an organization devoted to finding ways to offer a bit of dry land to a family that has faced their own Red Sea.

Today, as individuals, though our participation in the Global Mission Fair, we get to stretch out our hands by participating in activities together, by giving generously.

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 a family a spot of dry land, a way in which they will receive items that will allow them to create safe shelter, the ability to prepare food and to care for their needs.

In conclusion, 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, as a nation, recall a day that was so tragic, let us embrace the opportunity we have today to help another.

By participating in today’s Global Mission Fair, our gifts and our time can help a family find a way from uncertainty to hope, from despair to a tomorrow, and 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 hears our cries and leads us to dry land.
Amen and amen.