August 12, 2021

Sunday Worship Service 15th August 2021

Passage: Exodus Chapter 14 verses 10-18

A prayer of adoration
O God, your Word became flesh and lived among us.
Thank you that you moved into our neighbourhood,
that you are present with us right now,
dwelling in our hearts and our homes.
Holy God, you are worthy to be praised.
Holy Spirit, we worship you.
Living bread, we adore you.
A prayer of confession and an Assurance of forgiveness
A prayer of confession
Lord, when we are not as hospitable as you were,
forgive us, Lord, we pray.
When we drain life out of people rather than be life giving,
forgive us, Lord, we pray.
When we damage relationships rather than repair them,
forgive us, Lord, we pray.
When we seek ‘self’ first and don’t share who we are,
forgive us, Lord, we pray.
Make us whole, Lord. Make us whole today.

Assurance of forgiveness
Lamb of God,
you paid the ultimate price on the cross,
your body was broken and your blood shed –
and by your stripes we are healed and forgiven.
Read Exodus Chapter 14 verses 10-18
Sermon by Rev Peter Lyth
How many of you have watched a “Laurel and Hardy” film? I guess quite a few of you. Well, you will remember the catch phrase that goes with it as Stan Laurel puts them in some kind of predicament, “Well that’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into”.
And the Israelites seem to have gotten themselves into a fine mess. Behind them and pursuing them is the Egyptian Army. And before them is a sea, tradition tells us it’s the Red Sea although one translation gives us “sea of reeds”. Either way, they are between a Rock and a Hard place. What are they to do?
Before going on. It’s worth looking at how they got into that situation. Joseph’s family had moved to Egypt, forced by necessity due to famine. but, as time went on, they made no attempt to move back or go anywhere, even though, in the first instance it was a temporary expedient. Even though circumstances in Egypt had got worse and worse. The longer they stayed, the worse it got and the harder it became to break free and become God’s Nation once more. God called Moses to lead them out and (reluctantly, it has to be said), he did so.
So, here they are, in a bit of a pickle. Sandwiched between an advancing army, and the sea. One is reminded of the tragic deaths that occurred a few years ago in Greece where there were people sandwiched between plunging off a cliff into the sea or being burned by the wildfire. In this case too the choice is stark. Drowning versus taking their chances with the Egyptian Army. (at best that would mean hard labour, at worst death).
So they do what many people do in these circumstances, they look for someone to blame. And there he is, the easiest target, Moses. No matter that their circumstances were pretty dire where they were, they say, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
Actually, it would have been better to blame the previous generations whose inertia had caused them to still be slaves, or maybe Joseph himself who had permitted them to be used as slaves. At the time that had been expedient but had never been changed. But Moses is an easy target.
But surely, the Israelites wouldn’t want to stay as slaves in Egypt? You’d think so wouldn’t you? Yet throughout the Exodus, they seem reluctant and grumbling. They were not motivated to leave, despite being oppressed and enslaved. They had reached the point where they hadn’t the courage or vision or will to see that there was a way out or take that first step. Only when God tells Moses, through the burning bush, does an alternative emerge. And, in fact they go out boldly, that is until now….
But, as I said, here they are in a fix. Moses responds by telling them first to stand firm, and then to not be afraid. This is a common phrase, for instance the Angel Gabriel tells Mary not to be afraid. Often this is not enough though, like saying “Don’t worry”. And then God tells Moses off for looking to him for guidance – strange, Isn’t that what we are supposed to do?
But God is telling Moses to step out in confidence. After all, there have been no less than six occasions when he or Aaron, his brother have stretched out their hand or staff and something miraculous has happened. “Look”, God is saying, “have you learned nothing?” Why should this time be any different?”
And what God does tell them to do is interesting. They have to step forward first, in faith, before knowing what was to happen. It was not a case of waiting for the miracle and then when it was safe setting off. They had to step out in faith. Then Moses had to trust that something would happen.
So there are a few things that we can learn from this. Firstly, through habit, we can end up staying in an unsatisfactory place. We get used to things being unsatisfactory, sometimes to the point where we don’t even see it any more. We see things as normal or unavoidable. Sometimes we think that things will spontaneously get better. I heard a useful metaphor which is that as we do what we always do, we wear a groove. There comes a point where the groove becomes so deep that we cannot see over the edge to what might be. It has to be said that moving forward can be scary. And then then what about the obstacles in our path? But yet, I think standing still is not an option. Slowly, the church is in decline. In my time in ministry, which is not that long, the URC nationally has shrunk by 40%! That’s nearly half! And the Methodist church is declining at 3.5% per year. Clearly staying put is not an option. But listening to God and following where he wants us to go is.
There’s also something about sticking at it. The Israelites set off with heads held high, but at the first sign of trouble, they turn in on themselves. If you carry on reading through Exodus, you find this is a recurrent theme. But yet with God leading us, surely we are going in the right direction. After all, God has a track record of deliverance.
And finally, we have to look at the community. There’s something about leadership – Moses needed his arm twisting somewhat but he stepped up when needed. I think that one of the reasons why he was and is still revered is because he was a leader that was called by God and responded. The church needs people to step up when they are called. But also the writer of Exodus is critical of those who turn on their leader at the first sign of trouble. Without Moses stepping up, maybe the Israelites would have stayed put and things would have panned out very differently. Yet the people often grumbled and gave him a hard time.
I often find it amazing how the Bible still resonates with life today. That’s one reason why I so enjoy Bible Study (and, dare I say it, am mystified by those who don’t). I think that this passage reflects the history of many churches who have been at their best when they have stepped out in faith, responding to the leadership of God through those whom he has chosen. They have followed the path which God has laid before them. We can see times in our history when this has happened as well as times when we have been more like the Israelites confronted by the sea. How, indeed whether we proceed though is up to us.
Intercessions for others, the world and ourselves
Loving God,
you are the living bread that recreates and sustains us,
the bread that brings life to the world, the crucified and living Christ
whose Spirit teaches us to dance to the rhythm of your heartbeat.
As you have called us to be wise,
we pray for those who seem to rely on their own strength and wisdom –
those who turn away from faith, those who believe they are never wrong …
Living bread: bring life to your world.
As you have filled us with your Spirit,
we pray for a world so often filled with its own importance –
those who will not look for the kingdom of God …
Living bread: bring life to your world.
As you teach us to sing,
we pray for a world crying in pain –
victims of injustice, those on the margins …
Living bread: bring life to your world.
As you ask us to give thanks,
we pray for those whose pain is too much –
the friend and stranger asking to be healed …
Living bread: bring life to your world.
As you accept our offering,
we pray for those who feel they have nothing to offer –
the bullied and the different, the invisible and poor …
Living bread: bring life to your world.
You are the living bread. You call us to feed your world.
Bless us, challenge us, feed us and nurture us, as you hear our prayers.
Prayers are © ROOTS for Churches Ltd 2002-2021. Reproduced with permission.

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