Friday, August 26, 2005

God will make a way for you (Exodus 13)

Pharoah had had enough of Israel, and so he let them go! God did not lead the people through the land of the Philistines, on their way out. God knew that they would fail, that they would give up, that they would go back to Egypt. This is a profound insight into the nature of God---God wants us to succeed. If you follow God’s leading, you will avoid some of the difficulty that is out there. God wants you to make it. But to make it, we have to trust God, and let go of Pharoah. There was an old spiritual that Roberta Flack used to sing, entitled “Let Pharoah Go”.

We have to do that. We have to leave Egypt behind, and let Pharoah go.

And so God leads the people by way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. As they leave Egypt they are equipped for battle. Another insight—when you are on the way to freedom, someone is going to try to capture you; when you have figured out your purpose in life, someone is going to try to sabatage that.

Life is a battle. We wrestle not with flesh and blood, Paul wrote in Ephesians, but with principalities and powers. Being a Christian is a daily battle.

And so they go. Moses remembers to carry the bones of Joseph. What does this mean? They don’t forget where they have been, but they also carry their past into the future. They remember the promises made to Joseph, and to his ancestors, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

When you are on a journey, hiking across the desert or through the mountains, you carry only what is essential; everything else you leave behind, but what you carry is what is very important, what is crucial. The bones of Joseph represent the promises of God, this history of God’s presence with his people.

Now as they are journeying, they are given a sign—a cloud by day and a fire by night. These were signs of God’s presence—a cloud by day and a fire by night—God had given his word that he would be with Moses. (3.12) “I will be with you,” an anticipation of Jesus’ words in John 14—“I will not leave you comfortless” and in Matthew 28, “I am with you always.” God was with us then; God is with us.

But here there is not only a word—there is a visible sign—cloud, fire. How is God in the cloud and in the fire?

The cloud helped in that it put some distance between people and their enemy. God would watch over them and protect them. The cloud separated the people from their enemies.

Sometime the enemy is external—a free-floating anxiety about terrorism.

Sometimes the enemy is internal: an anger, a resentment, a grudge.

Sometimes the enemy is real. Sometimes the enemy is imaginary.

God is in the cloud, protecting the people, protecting us. God is also in the fire. The light goes before the people, guiding their steps, insuring that they will make it to their destination.

These were the signs: a cloud by day, a fire by night. God gives us signs even now, to help us in the journey. It is a day-to-day thing, the Christian life, but God does give us signs.

I began to think about a few of these signs this week.

Experience can be a sign. An emotion floods over us. It can be surpising or spontaneous.

Practices and rituals can be signs. These are like the streams through which God’s grace flows. These usuall take a particular shape and form.

Readings can be signs, especially a verse of scripture that speaks to us.

Beliefs can be a sign. They are like the frame that puts our faith into perspective.

I am convinced that people can be signs. I am convinced that God sends particular people into our lives for a reason.

This week I spent a night in a hotel when I was away working on a project. My older daughter, Liz, was with me, but I was eating breakfast alone in the hotel. I usually prefer to get out—the food is often better, and something in me doesn’t want to pay the going rate for hotel breakfasts, and so I did walk a fair distance along Peachtree Street in Atlanta searching for a place there was nothing that I could find. And so I headed back toward the restaurant, and was seated by the hostess. A waiter came to my table and he spoke very clearly, very distinctly, and said, “My name is Wilson, and I will be honored to serve you today.” I thanked him. Then I ordered coffee and juice, and later the food.

Then he returned, a little lat er, and he asked, distinctly again. “Does vacation bring you to our city?” I said no, some work today, and a little baseball. Then I asked, “Where are you from?” He smiled and said, “I am from Haiti”. I smiled and told him that I had been to Haiti and would be going back this January. “A mission”, he asked? Yes, it’s a medical mission. We also have a relationship with the church. I’m a minister.

Then he sat down beside me. “My name is Wilson,” he said. “Was it hard for you to get from Haiti to the US?” I asked him.

“No, not really,” he said, and then he shared a little of his story. He was born into a large family. He was always a worker in his church, then a teacher. “But I never had a girlfriend, he said. It was not fair to my family. There was an older woman in my church. She could ask me to do work for her. Then she asked if I had a girlfriend. I said No. She told me about her niece who lived in New Jersey. She asked me to call her. I did not have the nerve. She persisted. Finally, I called. I was shaking”.

“We talked a couple of times. Then she visited Haiti. She was active in her church in New Jersey. There was a married man who was a leader in her church, his name was Wilson. My name is Wilson. She looked up to this man, Wilson, and said, “I would like to marry a Christian man.” She visited two more times. On the third visit, we married, and we moved to New Jersey, but it was too cold. So we came to Atlanta. We have four children. ”I am blessed,” he said, this man, Wilson, a Haitian, working in the hotel.

Then he said, “If you work for God, God will make a way for you”. And then he repeated, “If you work for God, God will make a way for you.”

I think Wilson was a sign of God’s presence for me that day. Why did our paths cross? Was it coincidence? I don’t think so. Was God trying to say something to me? I think so. If your work for God, God will make a way for you.

As Christians, we learn to read the signs. If we look and listen, God will show us something, a cloud by day, a fire by night; a promise—“I am with you always”. An experience—If you are experiencing something, don’t avoid it, don’t medicate it, lean into it. A ritual; a word; a core conviction; a person.

The end of Exodus 13 points us to the truth again, just in case we missed it. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.

May God watch over you to protect you. May God shine upon you to guide you.
Listen to the wisdom of the hymn:

Lead, kindly light, amid th’ encircling gloom,
lead Thou me on!
The night is dark,
and I am far from home;
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet
I do not ask to see the distant scene;
One step enough for me.


Source: Lead, Kindly Light”, John Henry Newman.


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