JOURNEYING TO THE PROMISED LAND (#1): FAITH

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1 !1 "JOURNEYING TO THE PROMISED LAND (#1): FAITH" (Exodus 13:3a, 20-22) 2017 Rev. Dr. Brian E. Germano [PROPS NEEDED: (#1) Suitcase filled with items in #2.A (below); (#2) Ending prayer on card stock for each congregant] [LaGrange First U.M.C.; ] --I-- 1. Read CEB Text: Exodus 13:3a, Pray. 2. Many of you may remember a game you may have played in the car while traveling on vacation somewhere that went like this:"i'm going on a trip to, I'm traveling by, and I'm taking with me." A--Well, just like many of you, each Spring Break (like the one coming up the first week of April) my family and I usually take a vacation somewhere, and I have here a suitcase contains things we might pack for such a trip: 1--I've Clothes to wear; 2--A deck of Cards and other Games to play and books to read once we get there; 3--A case containing Toiletries; 4--And, of course, in addition to what's in the suitcase, I always take along my smartphone that has GPS driving directions to where I'm going, a digital confirmation of our hotel reservation, and my Bible and devotions. B--All of these items not only help us to get where we're going, but also enable us to enjoy our destination when we get there. 3. Well, today's scripture from Exodus 13 is a small part of a much larger biblical story (found in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy) where we find the people of Israel taking a rather lengthy trip/journey out of Egypt to eventually reach (40 years later) what was called the "Promised Land." A--And like my family's vacations, the people of Israel found that along the way they, too, needed various things not only to enable them to get to their eventual destination, but also to enjoy it once they got there. B--Well, like the people of Israel, in many ways we all experience life to be like a trip/ journey which we hope and pray will lead us to the "promised lands" of our future. C--And yet, however much you & I want to live in our "promised land," the reality is that most of aren't there yet -- that there are things about us and about life around us that are still "under construction"; that we've "not yet arrived," and are still on a "journey" to reach the "promised lands" of our lives (whatever that might mean for us).

2 4. So, in a new series called Journeying To The Promised Land, over the next 3 weeks during this spiritual journey we Christian call the season of Lent, I want to use Israel's journey/trek to their Promised Land to explore just a few of the things I believe that we as God's people will need if we're to successfully reach the "promised lands" of our lives. --II-- 5. And today, we're be focusing on the first of those items: what I'm naming as FAITH in the presence of God -- OR, put another way: a continual trust that God is with us always in whatever it is that we face along our life's journey. A--In Verses of today's scripture, we find this "presence of God" described in terms of being "a column of cloud [during the day] to guide them and at night in a column of lightning to give them light [so that] they could travel during the day and at night," & that "the column of cloud during the day and the column of lightning at night never left its place in front of the people." (NOTE: Other translations more famously call these a "pillar of cloud by day" and "a pillar of fire by night.") B--Now we don't really know exactly what these "columns/pillars" actually were. 1--Some have suggested that they were simply natural phenomena that ended up getting explained spiritually, While others are emphatic that they are literal miracles from God. C--But either way, a fixation on exactly what they were actually misses the point that in biblical times, "clouds" and "lightening/fire" were metaphors used to describe both Divine direction and protection. 1--So, for example, in the scripture just read it says that the columns of cloud and lightening were constantly "in front of the people", which is an obvious reference to their guiding function (to show God's people which way to go) But if we fast forward just a bit (to Ch. 14:19-20), we also find the cloud and lightning moving to the rear, taking up a place between Israel & the Egyptians who were pursuing them -- which highlights their protective/salvation function. D--So, the first point to understand is that this story is not really written to explain the presence of the cloud and fire rationally, but instead to emphasize God's continual presence with Israel as they made their journey to the Promised Land. 3 E--The cloud and lightening/fire were meant to be tangible, visual reminders to the people of Israel that God was with them, and that they therefore didn't need to fear either the FUTURE (i.e., the unknown), the PRESENT (i.e., the "wilderness" they were currently in), or the PAST (i.e., the "known" oppression of the Egyptians). --III--!2

3 5. Now, think with me for just a moment about how this insight relates to situations and circumstances of our own lives today.!3 A--As I said earlier, most of us have "promised lands" that'd we'd like to see and enjoy "living" in (i.e., we'd like to see them come to pass). 1--For some of us, our "promised land" might be having a healthy marriage, or a stable job, or a strong family. 2--For others, "promised land" may be a metaphor for our life without stress, or an addiction that we've struggled with, or a constant of loneliness or depression that we always seem to battle. 3--For still others, our "promised land" might refer to a life and a world without prejudice, judgement or oppression from others. 4--And (thinking of this in a corporate sense), the "promised land" might be a metaphor for our church -- a more vibrant LFUMC, with more children & youth, which reaches our community effectively & creatively like we once did. B--Well, whatever our "promised land" is, most of us want to be there, and so we're doing things to try to reach and achieve it: 1--Some are willing to see counselors or therapists to try and bring healing to our broken marriages, families and other relationships, and some are diligently looking for jobs after being unemployed. 2--To relieve stress or break the chains of addiction, some are learning the power of prayer, exercise, and peer accountability and support. 3--And to try & make our world less prejudiced, judgmental and oppressive, some are engaging in intentional ministries of compassion, justice & reconciliation. 4--And over the last 2 years, we as a church have instituted a number of different ways of doing worship and ministry to begin the long process of returning our church to effectiveness and vitality of mission in and with our community. 6. And yet, all of these steps we take to try & reach our "promised lands" usually involve us (like it did Israel) doing things that make many of us nervous, uncomfortable & fearful. 4 A--Biblically, what I'm talking about is what the Israelites experienced as traveling through what the Bible calls the "wilderness." B--And it's what we experience in our lives, as well (both individually & corporately) when we are trying to reach the "promised lands" of life: we (like Israel) also often journey through the "wilderness" -- places where we, too, may wrestle with fear of the future, awkwardness/discomfort about the present, and even ghosts from our past.

4 --IV--!4 7. And yet, here's the thing: the same God who went before & behind Israel as a column of cloud by day & one of lightening by night, is the same God who goes before & before us today, showing us the way (yes), but also calming our fears about the future, and our nervousness about the present and past. 5 A--A few years back a writer for the "Upper Room" devotional guide (that many of us read) told the story about their son and daughter being in a serious accident while on a bus traveling to a youth retreat. A phone call had come to the writer telling about the accident, and that a young boy had been killed, and several others seriously injured. No names were mentioned, though. So when the writer arrived where the teens had been taken, while his heart grieved for the family of the lost boy, he was relieved to find both his son & daughter okay, with only minor injuries. His daughter, though, was so shaken up that she immediately ran into his arms sobbing, saying she'd "never ride in a car again." He nevertheless got her in his car and started to head back home. After a while on the way, the writer explained that he turned around to notice his son sleeping in the back seat, and his daughter singing softly to herself. So he asked her, "How is it that you are not only in a car, but singing?" Her answer was simple, "Daddy, YOU'RE the one who's driving now." 6 B--I don't know what it is that you're facing right now that's causing fear in your life. 1--Like the Israelites, maybe its fear of the future, or fear of change in the present, or even fear of the past coming back to haunt you. 2--Perhaps it's fear of losing a loved one, or a relationship, or your job, or your health, or fear of your church changing. 3--Whatever it is, if you're a person of faith, you need to remember that your Daddy (God) is in the driver's seat of your life, & you don't need to be afraid! 7 C--In the words of Verse 2 of the famous hymn by Katharina von Schlegel: "Be still, my soul: your God will undertake to guide the future as in ages past. Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake; All now mysterious shall be bright at last. Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know The Christ who ruled them while he dwelt below." 8 D-You see, if we want to reach the "promised land" of our future, we need to have FAITH that God is with, before & behind us to give us comfort, guidance, and protection. 8. So, since this Friday is St Patrick's Day, in your bulletin, you'll find a card containing a medieval Celtic prayer called a lorica (breastplate) which (like a soldier's breastplate) was often prayed to remind the pray-er of God's presence and protection.

5 !5 1--I want to invite you to take it home as a tangible reminder of God's continual presence in your life and mine -- that this prayer would sort of be our personal "column of cloud by day" and our "column of lightning by night." 2--As we conclude, would you take it out and pray it in unison with me...? 9. [UNISON PRAYER: "God before me, God behind me, God above me, God below me, God beside me, God always in my heart. Amen." [Closing Hymn UMH#534: "Be Still, My Soul"] ENDNOTES: 1 For example, some have theorized that these things were simply formed by a uniquely shaped cloud bank, or by the cloudy spine of an active volcano. 2 This function is again highlighted in Numbers 9: See J. Pederson, "Pillar of Fire and of Cloud," Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (Volume 3, p. 817). Also Mike Mitchell, "Pillar," Holman Bible Dictionary, and the article "Cloud"in Eastman Bible Dictionary. 4 Most of us don't like new things and new directions, even if they ARE things that'll help us reach our "promised land", because they're just not what we've been used to. 5 Dr. Michael Yousef, Pastor of the Church of the Apostles in Atlanta, once said that "The HAND of God will never lead you where the GRACE of God is not already with you" (Heard on Christian radio station WVFJ, 91.7 FM) Taken from an article in "Upper Room" devotional guide (May 1991), author from SE Asia. Read 1 John 4:18 ("Perfect love casts out fear"). Lyrics to Verse #2 of "Be Still, My Soul" in the United Methodist Hymnal #534. This type of prayer in the Celtic (Irish) tradition is called a "lorica" or "breastplate prayer" because it is essentially a prayer for protection (just as the function of a medieval breastplate was to protect one's chest in battle).

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