It’s Time to be Fearless a sermon preached on Exodus 14:10-14 on September 17, 2017 by Rev. Elizabeth Hagan
Though we know FDR is famous for saying, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” the truth of the matter is that all of us are afraid of something. And we think about our fears a lot.
I was doing some research this week on some recent surveys of what people in general as well as Americans in particular are most afraid of. And I have to say it stirred fear up in me just reading lists. If I wasn’t afraid, I got more afraid in reading the list.
Did you know that according to a 2016 USA Today survey that 60.6 % of Americans fear corruption of government officials (which was a similar number in the same survey in 2015). This fact both surprised the me most and didn’t surprise me all at the same time.
Also, did you know that 41 % of American fear terrorist attacks? While 39% fear not having enough money for the future and 38% fear being a victim of crime?
There’s a lot to be said from this poll about our fear of feeling safe both physically and financially as a country and worrying a lot about the unknowns.
In another more general research study about the top ten things human beings worry about the most, failure topped the list along with the fear of dying (especially if it is a painful experience), facing rejection and a future that cannot be controlled.
And this is not to mention all the phobias we carry with us too.
Aerophobia – The fear of flying (25 millions of Americans have this fear, by the way)
Bottom line, friends, if there’s one word that could be used to describe us as human race it’s fear.
Maybe this is why then, our Old Testament lesson for this morning feels, then, so extraordinary. For within it, we read an epic tale only fit for the makings of Hollywood and Charlton Heston.
We read a tail that feels like fearlessness on display especially as we continue reading not only the lectionary verses allocated for us this morning but the entirety of Exodus 14.
It’s easy to begin to think that the Israelites are superhuman and nothing like us.
But here’s the thing: they are.
The more I thought of it this week, the more I realized that if we went back in time and interviewed some of the charter members of the “I crossed the Red Sea club” about their journey, I’d imagine they’d laugh at any “fearless” label we’d want to place on them. Or even if we called them spiritual heroes. They’d laugh at that too. Because it wasn’t as if they signed up for a journey, a moment, or even an act of courage like they found themselves in that day on the bank of the Sea.
Let us remember the group gathered at the Red Sea that day was a ragtag group of poor people on the run. They’d been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. They were bricklayers and straw makers and nursing moms and children. They were simple people. Curious people. Afraid people. They hadn’t been to college or vocational school. They were workers. With few dreams for their life beyond doing what they’d always done. They were stuck in pain, in agony, in circumstances they couldn’t have fixed if they wanted to.
Yet, as God heard their cries, God raised up a leader. God raised up a smart leader. God raised up a visionary leader. God raised up a leader with courage—courage that looked like a march to Pharaoh’s throne to say about them, “Let my people go.”
Everything was about to change for the people in this movement. Especially if Pharaoh agreed. But scripture tells us that Pharaoh did not know Moses’ God. He did not want the people to go. And so, Moses did the only thing you can do when you have a Pharaoh who doesn’t know God or respect the ways of God.
Moses, on behalf of the people, started a resistance movement.
This resistance movement came with help from the LORD as physical signs of God’s disapproval in Pharaoh came forth. Frogs, gnats, blood, darkness and finally the hardest sign of all the death of the first-born sons of all of those who did not celebrate the Passover meal with the Israelites.
Can you imagine how the worldview of the Israelites through all of these events was tilted, jolted and even seemed scarier?
Though Egypt was a place of persecution, distress and certainly NO freedom, it was looking all the better all the time as this God was doing things they’d never imagined. Sure, they’d heard the stories of faith about their ancestors—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But now: at their very doorstep, here was this God showing up, coming to the rescue and wanting to work mightily through THEM.
I want to stop here and point out that the 10 plagues, as scripture tells us about them, were simply acts of God. They didn’t ask the people to do anything. The plagues up until the Passover meal did not ask the people to go on strike, to sneak out of Egypt in the night or even raise up an army in secret and prepare to attack Pharaoh. No. This resistance movement was a Moses+ God vs. Pharaoh spiritual war.
Yet the narrative began to shift as THE PEOPLE were told to bake bread and kill a lamb for supper and wipe the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their homes. They’d have to act in FAITH.
They’d have to do some things that others might have called “crazy” with fearlessness.
And what a triumphant moment came next! Whooo! They are allowed to leave Egypt. The Egyptians give them material goods and supplies to take with them. Their bellies and spirits are full of excitement for the journey ahead, even though they were without a GPS or an IPhone map to tell them where they’d camp for the night. Life was looking up. Maybe this following God thing wasn’t so difficult after all?
What came next, church? Where did the people find themselves?
They were at the Red Sea—one of the largest known bodies of water known at the time.
Now what had they gotten themselves into?!? How in the world were they going to get themselves across?
No matter if how you read the Bible means you take the Red Sea a literal place and event or even if you believe it’s a metaphorical one—it’s important to capture in our minds the HUGE significance of this moment. Like hitting a brick wall as far up as the heaven with no ladder to help you reach the other side, so this is how the Israelites must have felt.
Lost. Afraid. Out of resources.
And going back to Egypt was out of the question too, especially as verse 10 of our text tells us that “Pharaoh and the Egyptians drew near.”
All the people knew to do is probably what you and I would have done too—cry and complain to the one person in the situation that they could blame: Moses.
(Wouldn’t you have LOVED to have been Moses in that moment? I know I wouldn’t . . .)
This is what they said: “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us way to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us bringing us out of Egypt? . . . For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”
Sigh. Deep sigh.
For no matter if they like liked it or not, Israel faced their moment of truth, fear or no fear. There was no turning back.
Choice 1: Go back to Egypt and angry Pharaoh
Choice 2: Trust God to lead the way across the sea.
What would be their choice?
Their encouragement came in verse 14. “The Lord will fight for you [Moses said], and you have only to keep still.”
Though their circumstances seemed bleak, though every reasonable vibe in them said, “Run and hide” or just “prepare to die, their faith in the Lord told a different story. It told them to be fearless. It told them to go forward. It told them to believe that God could do something among them that even if they had no evidence to prove its possibilities: it would HAPPEN. Their faith would move from a “oh that’s a story for someone else” to “their story.”
For you see God didn’t care about their pedigree, their hidden talents or even what the farmer’s almanac might have told them about weather forecast, God wanted to use THEM to bring a movement of freedom to this world, like none other.
Harriet Tubman, the American a former slave turned abolitionist, humanitarian was also named, “Moses” for her role in the Underground Railroad during the years surrounding the American Civil War.
Mother Tubman was a simple woman. With no special pedigree for “hero” either.
Furthermore, she had every right to feel afraid. They bounty that was held upon her head if caught rose to the millions. Evil, hard hearted people would have tortured her to the extreme if they ever found her. No one would have faulted her if she just settled down in Philadelphia (where she first found home after escaping slavery herself) and led a quiet life.
But regardless of all this—she remained true to the cause of doing the next right thing and putting one foot in front of the other.
And the next right thing ALWAYS included listening to God’s calling to move on forward and to bring somebody with her in need as she did.
When asked about her affinity for quitting she said this:
“If you are tired, keep going.
If you scared, keep going.
If you hungry, keep going.
If you want to taste freedom, keep going.”
Mother Tubman knew there was no time like the present other than to do what God had called her to do. She knew her faith mean leaning on a power greater than herself that made her fearless.
And it’s this: when’s the last time you stepped forward in faith with God with fearlessness? When’s the last time you were tired and keep going? When was the last time you were scared and keep going? When was the last time you wanted to taste freedom and kept going so that you could find it?
Yet, I must add it’s hard for me to evoke the name of saints of the church like Mother Tubman and think that many of us here in this church, here in this community, here in this era of time know anything about Mother Tubman’s faith experience. Because let’s just make one thing clear. I’m going to say it today and I’m going to say it many times going forward. For many of us, the color of our skin, the amount of money in our bank account and the possessions that surround our lives, no to mention the color of our passport, could sum up our story with one word and one word only and that is privilege.
So, with this being true, might we live out this exhortation of fearlessness this morning? How might we join up more of the precious moments of our lives with more boldness of living the lives that God has called us to live?
I believe we keep listening to God. A God who says to us just as the Israelites first heard: “Just be still.” We make space in our life for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be heard.
And in our listening, we believe that God will send God’s prophetic words of re-direction when we find ourselves on the wrong paths.
We believe that God will send God’s prophetic words of conviction when we’re acting more out of the privileged side of our mouths than the side that speak in faith.
We believe that God will send us every teacher, co-laborer, friend and more than we could have ever imagined for the things God has planned for us to do.
We believe that God will supply all our needs according to God’s riches and glory in Christ Jesus.
Does it mean that we won’t be scared when we find ourselves at the Red Seas of our lives and in the life of our church?
Hear me say clearly: it’s ok to be afraid. I get afraid. You get afraid. We all get afraid. For it’s true: fear is part of the human condition. But, it doesn’t have to be what controls us. Fear doesn’t have to be the guiding word or the final word.
When author Madeleine L’Engle was asked, “Do you believe in God without any doubts?’ she replied, ‘I believe in God with all my doubts.”
Are you ready church to believe in God with all your doubts too?
Then it’s time.
It’s time right now.
It’s time to dream together again about how God might be calling us as a community to be fearless in how we come together, spend our money and devote our time.
It’s time to be fearless in leaning into our new beginnings.
If you believe so—why don’t you say it with me? And say it to your neighbor?
It’s time to be fearless.
And then stand and sing with me our hymn of fearlessness—Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah.
For it is our Great Jehovah that will lead us all the way.