“Privilege, Power, Prison” Exodus 14 (selections)
Rev. Sean Weston
Lyonsville Congregational UCC, Indian Head Park IL
September 30, 2018
A boy was walking alone with his mom at night, on a narrow sidewalk. Without saying anything, his mom moved him behind her. He didn’t really understand why, but it was mom, surely it was okay. Then again without saying a word, she put him in front of her. What was going on? Then again she moved him – this time putting him on her shoulders. Never once explaining what was going on.
The boy felt confused, powerless, worried. Why was this happening? Was everything okay?
I wonder when you, too, have felt like that boy. Confused – why is this happening to me? Powerless: why don’t I have any control? Does it matter what I want? Worried: “what’s happening?” “am I going to be okay?”
If you would, take a moment to think of a time you felt like that boy. I’d encourage you to write it down – there is piece of paper in your bulletin. At this moment in time, what makes you feel confused, powerless, worried, scared? What makes you feel like that boy on the dark road?
Now, for another story.
A mom was walking alone with her son at night. She was on the lookout for danger. She sensed that there was a thief ahead, so without saying a word, she moved her son behind her. Then, she sensed a wolf behind them, so she moved her son in front. Then when a thief and a wolf approached at the same time, she put her son on her shoulders to protect him from them both.
These two stories, of course, describe the same events. The story is based on an ancient Jewish commentary on today’s story from the Bible. In the Bible story, God’s people feel like that boy: confused, powerless, worried, scared. With the help of some well-timed plagues, Moses had freed them from slavery in Egypt. They were free! Except now Pharaoh’s army was coming after them, and they were stuck at the Red Sea. They started to wonder: what is this Moses up to? It seemed like he knew what he was talking about earlier. But now we’re stuck, and we’re going to die, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
(For his part, I imagine Moses felt the same way about God. “How could you lead me here to leave me here?” Why is this happening? Why can’t I do anything about it? Am I going to be okay?”)
So the people got mad. Anger is what’s called a secondary emotion. That means that it isn’t usually the first thing we feel. We might first feel scared, powerless, or hurt. It’s really hard to express those things, even to ourselves. So, we will often think of the emotion as anger. Psychologically, people tend to have more of a roadmap for how to deal with anger. And one way is to focus it on others. God’s people were scared, so they went to Moses and took it out on him:
- Was the grave shortage in Egypt so bad that you had to take us here to die?
- What have you done to us?
- Didn’t we tell you to leave us alone?
- It would be better for us to work for the Egyptians than to die out here
Moses could have gotten defensive. He could have reminded them that they chose to come with him, even though they had expressed fear a few times. He could have yelled at them for not being grateful – did they know how hard he worked so they could be free? He could have return their anger with anger of his own.
Instead, he saw through the anger and spoke about the real stuff. Their fear. Do not be afraid, he said. God will rescue you today. You’ll never see the Egyptians, never again. He spoke to their fear.
At this point God jumps in and tells Moses to stretch his hands over the sea, to divide the sea. Moses did so. God made a way out of no way. God’s people traveled through the sea safely to the other side. The Egyptians, however, did not. And Moses was right. God’s people made it. They were safe.
God’s leading can be confusing. Like the boy walking with his mother, God’s people didn’t realize until later that God had been protecting them the whole time. That there was more going on than met the eye. That God was doing things to protect them even when they couldn’t tell. That God – like mom – could be trusted. Even if it didn’t seem that way.
A lot of times we move through life wanting things to look like this [show slide]:
I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. In reality, though, things tend to be a lot more like this:
God’s leading can be confusing. Like the Hebrews, when the going gets tough, we may wish we could go back to the past. The past often looks better when you’re not in it anymore. Like the Hebrews, we may not like the path we’re on: we may be confused, scared, we might feel powerless.
But God’s leading can still be trusted. The promised land is still promised. The goal is still reachable. It just isn’t going to be an easy journey.
When they needed courage, Moses reminded them that God would take care of them. They could stand firm, even when trembling with fear. They could trust God’s leading, even when it was confusing. They could move forward, not back.
When we are confused and fearful, when we need courage, remember: God will take care of us. We can stand firm, even when trembling with fear. We can trust God’s leading, even when it is confusing. We can move forward, not back.
Earlier I showed the children a way that we can use stones to help us when we are worried. This is actually something that can help all of us. Worry stones can help us when we’re scared or confused. They can remind us that God is our rock. All the time.
So today, we’re going to make worry stones for each another. First, could all the kids who want to gather up front to help me pass out supplies?
[With kids, make sure everyone has a stone and a marker]
I’d invite you to take a couple minutes to decorate your stone. Remember, this will end up going home with someone else. You can use words or pictures of encouragement, saying something like “stand firm,” “you are brave”, “God is with you”, “you are love,” or “you are not alone.”
[give a few minutes]
As you finish, think about the ways others have given you courage when you were afraid, and ways that you have encouraged others.
Now, take another look at the fears and worries you wrote about earlier. Sometimes those fears seem overwhelming. But God promises to be with us and to guide us, even when it seems like there is no way forward. In our baptism we are reminded of this. We are reminded that the waters will not overwhelm us.
So, I invite you to take your stone with you to the font. As you come to the font, dip your finger in the water. Make the sign of the cross on your forehead as a reminder that God is with you still, in the midst of it all. Then as you head back to your seat, leave your stones on the front rail here. We’ll pass them out later, during the blessing.
Even if you didn’t decorate a stone, please bring one up. If you don’t want to come up to the front, you can give your stone to someone else or raise your hand.
[as the people finish leaving their stones, the hymn
“Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain” will begin.]
 Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael 14:19