Sermon: Running to Stand Still

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 28, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

Listen to the Sermon.

Where have you seen God today?

 

Dennis at the BusLast year, in the midst of getting my parents moved to their apartment, Daniel and I took a mini vacation around places in Michigan and Ohio.  We stopped at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, which of course is the also the town where the headquarters for Ford is located.  I hadn’t been in the museum in about 30 years, so I was excited to walk through the museum again. There are a number of famous cars in the building including a number of Presidential limosuines, some cars from the last 70 or 80s years and exhibits on how the car has changed American society.

 

But there is one display that has become the heart of the Henry Ford’s collection.  It’s an old city bus painted in yellow and green.  It’s the bus that civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks was on that sparked the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott.  As most of us know, in the 1950s in many parts of the South, blacks had to sit in the back of the bus and if they were towards the front and a white person entered the bus they had to move towards the back.  One day in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger who entered the bus.  The result was Parks was arrested and blacks in Montgomery began boycotting the busses to protest an unjust law.  It was during this time that a young preacher came to prominence for taking leadership during this boycott.  Martin Luther King became the other public faith of the boycott and after Montgomery he became the face of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

 

All of this started on this bus that now had its home in Dearborn, Michigan.  In the years following the boycott, the bus was sold and ended up in farmer’s field.  In the early 2000s, the bus was found, restored and delivered to the Henry Ford for permanent viewing.  Rosa Parks had moved to Detroit in the years following Montgomery and before she died in 2005, she was able to see the old bus that was witness to an earth shaking change in American society.

 

Where have you seen God today?

 

It’s been 25 years since the events at Tiennamen Square took place.  I was in my second year of college at the time, and I remember seeing footage of the protests.  What was going to happen?  Could political change come to the world’s largest country?

 

We got our answer on June 4 when the Chinese Army came in and removed the protesters from the square.  When I mean removed, I mean slaughter.  Scores of mostly college students were killed or injured by the army.  I remember seeing the footage of the destruction of the Goddess of Democracy, a Chinese version of the Statue of Liberty that took root in the square.  The downfall of the statue was also the downfall of hope for a different way of governing the country.

 

There is another image that remains.  You’ve all see it.  In the aftermath of the crackdown, there is a sole man in the middle of a wide avenue standing in front of a line of tanks.  It seemed that no one else was around.  This man stood his ground against these large tanks and at one point even got up on one of the tanks.  No one ever knew who this man was or what happened to him, but he was a symbol of defiance in a hopeless situtation.

 

Where have you seen God today?

 

The people of Israel were now free.  They had spent years as slave under the Pharaoh, a leader that didn’t know their ancestor Joseph and how another king welcomed Joseph’s family with open arms.  God hears the cries of the Israelites and raises up Moses to lead the people out of Egypt and to the Promised Land.  Pharaoh was stubborn and his heart was hardened.  He would not let the Israelites leave.  God sends 10 plagues or catastrophes that wreack havoc on the Egyptian people.  After the last plague, Pharaoh had enough.  He kicked the Israelites out.  Moses and the people of Israel left and started making their way to the Promised Land.

 

The people might have thought the nightmare was over.  But it wasn’t over.  Pharaoh’s heart hardened again and he decided to go after the fleeing Israelites.

 

The Hebrews were at the shore of the Red Sea with the advancing Egyptian army on their tail.  Things looked hopless and they shared their fear with Moses.  “Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt that you took us away to die in the desert? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt like this? 12 Didn’t we tell you the same thing in Egypt?”  Moses tells them to stand strong, be still in and know that God will be with them.  God tells Moses to tell the Israelites to “get moving.”  They needed to be ready when God works to save them.

 

And save them God did.  God caused a mighty wind to blow back the waters of the mighty sea so that dry ground would appear.  The Israelites were able to walk through the newly dry ground and away from the Egyptians.  The Egyptians went in after the Israelites and God causes the waters to come crashing in on the army which was totally destroyed.

 

“Don’t be afraid,” Moses said to the people. “Stand your ground, and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never ever see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you. You just keep still.”

 

Do we believe God can make a difference in our lives?  Moses told the people that God was going to rescue the Israelites from the hands of the Egyptians, with their mighty army.  Logic tells us that the Egyptians were going to slaughter the Israelites.  They were a powerful army with the tools of war; the Israelites were former slaves that probably didn’t have much.  Moses tells them to stand still, to stop their worrying and fretting and see what God is doing.  God tells the people to start moving in faith.  Together the people were called to run and stand still.  Both meant that God was moving, but the people needed to believe God was going to win the battle against the Egyptians.

 

Where have you seen God today?

 

There’s a reason that I keep saying that same sentence.  It’s because in mainline Protestant churches like this one, there is a tendency to not see God in our daily lives.  Some take this a step further and think there no such thing as divine action by God.  Methodist pastor David Watson notes that the world wars of the last century, the holocuast and other attrocities have led mainline theologians to focus on the nature of evil to the exclusion of believing in a God that can do miracles. All of this has had an effect in our churches.  Watson writes:

One result of this liberal theological position has been that mainline Protestants have by and large ceased to expect any significant type of divine action. If someone in our churches received a world of prophecy that he or she wished to share with the congregation, would we receive this as legitimate? Would we take the time to test the prophecy against scripture and discern its truthfulness within our ongoing life together? Would we let the person speak at all? Or, as another example, when we pray for healing, are we taking a shot in the dark when all other hope is lost, or do we pray with the expectation that God will show up? Another example may hit closer to home: when we receive the Eucharist, do we believe that we are changed in that moment, that we have really and truly received the spiritual presence of Christ into our bodies and that the work of sanctification is taking place within us?

 

For many mainline Protestants, God has essentially become a construct. God gives weight to our ethical claims, credence to our feelings about social justice. God is not, however, an agent who can directly and radically change the course of events in our lives.

My observations make me agree with Watson, we don’t expect God to show up.

 

Some theologians think that the who experience at the Red Sea didn’t happen as we think it might or what Cecil B. Demile thought.  They think that all this might have happened at the Reed Sea, a shallow body of water.  The winds could push the waters back allowing the Israelites to escape and causing the Egyptian chariots to bog down.

 

I shared this with the folks at our Wednesday Bible Study.  Which story makes sense?  The consensus is that we liked the more familiar story, because it was more dramatic.  I would agree, but I think there is  related reason.  We want to believe that God shows up and fights for the Israelites.  We don’t want a nice explaination, we want a miracle.  We want to see God in action.

 

We have no idea what happened that day.  Maybe it was the Reed Sea scenario, maybe not.  What makes the difference is that God was active and the people believed God was alive and working for them.

 

It’s time for us to believe that God is going to show up.  It’s time to stand still and stop worrying.  To stop and see where God is active.  It’s time to believe that God can make a way out of now way in this church, in our lives and in the world.  We need to believe that God is a healer that can restore the sick even if our prayers are not answered.  We need to believe in a God that in the words heard in the black church growing up “woke me up in the morning and started me on my way.” We need to believe that the bread and wine of communion remind us of Christ’s time on earth and Christ’s work in our lives now.

 

We have to believe in a God that can do miracles, because if we can’t believe God will show up, it’s hard to be church and it’s hard to persuade anyone to come to church.

 

Where have you seen God today?

 

In history, God was at work with Rosa Parks as she stood against segregation.  God was at work with that one unknown man in China as he faced down tanks.  God is at work, feed the poor, welcoming the homeless and the outcast and facing down the Pharaohs in the world.
Where have you seen God at today?  Stand still to find out and then move out in faith.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

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