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Notice Regarding Scripture
Please note that each sermon provides scripture verses from the NRSV.
In today’s Scripture passage, we heard one of the more famous stories of the Old Testament: Israel crossing the Red Sea. Having spent hundreds of years as slaves in Egypt, God sends them a deliverer in Moses. Through a series of miracles known as the 10 Plagues, Moses convinces the Pharaoh to let his people go. After being released, Israel heads into the desert. When the Pharaoh hears that all of the Israelites are aimlessly wandering in the desert, Pharaoh changes his mind and deploys his army to capture and bring back the Israelites to Egypt. The chariots caught up with Israel while they were camped at the Red Sea.
The people start to panic. They regret having left Egypt and blame Moses for this situation. Israel is stuck between the Egyptian army and the sea. There is no place to go. Moses assures the people that God will fight for them they need to only have faith. As Moses cries out to God, the pillar of cloud that was leading the Israelites moved behind Israel and stopped between them and the Egyptian army. It was dark on the Egyptian side and light on the Israelite side.
For a day, the cloud kept the Egyptian army away from Israel. In other words, it bought them time. During which, Moses had to practice what he preached: Trust the Lord. What did he have to do in order to trust the Lord? God told Moses to lift up his staff and stretch out his hands over the sea. That sounds easy right?
But consider this: About 600,000 panicking people were screaming and waiting for Moses to do something! Did Moses trust God? Yes. But what was he supposed to “DO?” He was instructed to stretch out his staff and hands over the sea. Maybe you have an image of a cool and collected Moses dominantly and boldly doing this action. If it were you, how would you do it? Boldly and surely? Or timidly and doubtfully?
If you said boldly, I believe you. Maybe you’re like my kids with a great imagination because they pretend they can shoot magic out of their hands. Besides, if you heard directly from God and you heard this, why not? If you said timidly, I believe you even more. I’d feel so foolish holding out my hands. In the face of an armed and charging army, holding out my hands over water hardly seems to be a “good” idea. Moreover, listen again to verse 21: “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided.” Did you catch that? Did you catch how long it took? It took “all night.” I don’t know what movie you saw, but most likely because of time constraints, the movie portrayed the parting of the sea almost instantaneously. But Scripture actually tells us that it took “all night.”
Do you really think that Moses held his hands over the sea in a “bold” fashion? Wouldn’t it be more likely that Moses held his hands and staff out in a way that seemed doubtful? And all the while can you picture him wondering, “Why do I have to do this and how long is this going to take?!” Moses held out his hands all night. I cannot imagine feeling any more useless. God was pushing the water back all night with the wind. Moses was doing this *arms up.*
But his act of holding out his staff and arms was important to God. While we might think it is a useless action in the face of danger, to God, it was an act of faith. Did power come through Moses’ staff and hands? No. Did God need Moses to lift his hands in order to do what God did? No. It was the act of faith that led to the manifestation of God’s power through Moses. This is how God words. God does not need us. But God chooses to work with us and through us. God did not need Moses to drive back the sea, but God would not drive back the sea without Moses. There is a relationship between God’s power and human trust-faith. When we take action in faith it creates the proper environment for a miracle or manifestation of God’s power.
What did it take for Moses to hold out his hands in faith? It was a three step process. First, Moses had to reflect and review the past. He had to ask himself whether he knows God and ever experienced God’s power. If the answer is, “No,” there would be no reason to trust God now. But Moses did remember how God called him from the burning bush and delivered the people of God through the 10 Plagues. He could trust God now. Second, Moses had to check his ego. Yes, Moses remembered God’s past acts. But right now, Moses had to step out of the way and admit that he can do nothing. Moses has to admit that he is powerless. What self-respecting person enjoys admitting this? But in order to hold out his hands, Moses has to check his ego and acknowledge God. In a way, raising up his hands is an act of surrender. Third, Moses has to trust God with the future. Much easier said than done. We are planners. We have checklists. We have deadlines. Moses had to trust God with the future meaning that Moses had to leave the results to God and move forward accordingly. After going through this process, Moses was able to raise his staff and hands all night long.
When Moses raised his hands, the situation did not change – immediately. Israel was still stuck with no way out. They still faced being killed by the sword or being drowned by the sea. While Moses’ hands were raised, God protected Israel with a cloud. Moses held his hands up, held them up all night until finally the cloud of protection faded because trust in God created a third way. They walked safely through dry land. A new passageway appeared where there was none before!
Today is Mission & Moving Up Sunday. Two very meaningful events packaged into one: Mission and Moving Up. Mission Sunday asks KPCOW to turn its attention to the Israelites that feared being drowned by the sea. In a devastating way, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit Texas and Florida, respectively within weeks of each other. How can we as a congregation bear witness to the love and grace of Jesus Christ to all of the people affected by this disaster? One very effective way is to share from the abundance of resources we have received. As a community, we are trying to raise $10K and donate it to the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. This gathering of funds is our act of faith in God. Does God need our $10K? No. But God uses it and manifests power through it when we offer it in faith and trust.
Moving-Up Sunday asks KPCOW to turn its attention to the Israelites that feared the attacking army. While moving up is a celebratory milestone for parents, it can be terrifying for the children. They are forced to leave the comforts of what was once familiar to an unknown place; they are like immigrants. But they do not go alone. Like the story of the Israelites, God goes with them. God protects them like the Great Cloud. This is what we celebrate: God’s faithfulness. We will appreciate the teachers who served last year and commission the teachers who will serve this year. We will stretch out our hands and pray for them. We will send them into the mission field of their school, trusting that God will make a safe passage that we cannot see.
Just as God told Moses ages ago, God still tells us to raise our staff and stretch out our hands. Will you do it boldly or timidly? Sisters and brothers, please listen. As much as it might seem like it, whether you hold out your hands boldly or timidly is not the focus. We cannot say which way Moses did it. The important thing is that you DO hold out your hands. For when you hold out your staff and hands in faith, God will always work through it. May we continue to hold out our staff and hands in faith. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.