Sermon – September 17, 2017

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Fr. Eaton, this last Sunday in his sermon, called the parish into prayer for 7 days. The prayer is for the purpose of encouraging faith in the face of difficult moments, as the story of the Israelites at the Red Sea shows the mighty power of God to save and provide solutions. The prayer is also to invite the Holy Spirit to make clear the way to our new Rector to be selected, and for the path to us to be clear to that person. Please add this focus of prayer into your daily discipline of prayer today. The text of the sermon is below. To hear the audio recording of the sermon, click here.

Proper 19, September 17, 2017
Good Shepherd, Hemet
The Rev. Robert G. Eaton, Interim Rector

The outstretched arm of Moses

In the name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Moses was standing at the shore of the Red Sea and they were faced with us what looks like an impenetrable situation.  That is when God spoke. He told Moses to stretch out his arm and lift up his staff.  And the impenetrable situation suddenly changed.  That is somewhat the same situation as the search committee faces right now. And we need to know /what’s going to help/ part the waters.

It’s actually a familiar situation for Moses at the red sea.  You see God had instructed Moses at least nine or 10 times before to Stretch out his hand or his arm, or to raise up his staff and stretch it out, or a combination of the two.  He was instructed by God to stretch of his staff or his arm to cause the plagues against Egypt, Such as the locusts, or  the frogs, or the water turned to blood.  And each time those plagues actually happened as a result of Moses’ obedience to God’s command, and, we’ve got to say, Moses’ increasing boldness with God’s command.

We all face moments in our lives when what seems insurmountable causes us to want to turn around and flee.  Or sometimes just stand there and complain about it.  And don’t forget to blame somebody else.  Like God.

The hard news in this story is it appears that God had something of a hand in the fact that there is now an insurmountable situation.  The scripture leading up to what we heard – and you know the story – tells us this in verse 8 of Exodus 14,

8 The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. 9 The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen[a]and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea.

Thanks, Lord.  But let’s not forget that sometimes, as God knows, these things have to happen like this in order to get the desired result.

So here’s the rest of the story, which is a beautiful illustration of what happens when people face insurmountable situations.

“10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. “  Yes, that’s what we tend to do.”  “11 They said to Moses, “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!”  (of course, that’s the blaming part).

13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Now here is an interesting addition to the story:  The Lord answers Moses.  But it sounds like Moses was talking to the people.  But what happens it seems is that the Lord is making an honest man out of Moses, who in this case seems like he was trying to placate the people, by telling them that he’s just sure God’s going to take care of the problem, so Just shuttup, be quiet, and be patient.

Let’s get back to the story to hear it,

15 Then the Lord said to Moses (and to the people), “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.”

Ah, this is the crux of faith.  Moses already should have known what to do, and the people should have known already what to expect.  Geez.  Will we never learn to trust the power and might of the Lord?  God is telling Moses, “Quit whining about it with your leadership blah-blah yourself, and get on with it.”

At this point, God doesn’t wallow in judgment; He goes ahead and gives the command,

 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen”

Beautiful.  Thank you very much, Lord.

Now Here is a detail of the story that helps us to see that what we perceive in insurmountable situations may not be everything that we need to see at that moment as God’s covering for that moment.  And especially even though we believe that we all are on the move with God in some way and we come to some kind of cliff or wall it’s important to Believe that God it is also right there with us.

Here’s what we’re told in the story before we hear that Moses did raise up his staff and stretch out his hand,

“The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.”

(perhaps you can hear that an angel of God is on the move with Good Shepherd)

THEN we hear that

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch ……and now we pick up the lesson from today, the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth.

Is that not a glorious telling of the might and power and the works of God?

This will not be the last we see of Moses racing up his staff or stretching out his hand for the sake of God’s people.

And It will not be the last that we see of this action in the rest of the bible, either.  Jesus will be stretching out his hand.  He stretched out his hand and healed the man with a skin disease.  He stretched out his hand on the water and grabbed Peter before he sank. Two more insurmountable situations that God provided solutions for.  These reaching-outs when on from Jesus as he promised they would into the ministry of the apostles and any disciples who would act in the same way in faith.

Now I could leave it at that and then make the next connection from the apostles and disciples to us, bringing in the situation with the Search Team, and the need for prayer as a sign of reaching out and lifting up that staff, to see the change that God would bring.  And I’ll share that with you in a minute.  But there is one more situation of reaching or stretching out that makes it even more powerful.

In Matthew’s 12th chapter is the story of a man with a withered hand.  It was the Sabbath and Jesus was confronted with the Pharasaical practices of no work meaning no healing.  Jesus gave an answer that says that God is with us, just like the work of the Angel at the wall, that if you can pull a lamb from a hole on the Sabbath to save it, surely a man can be healed.  And then he proved it without touching him.  It says,

13 Then He said to the man, “[You] Stretch out your hand!” He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other.

We’re the ones at the wall; we’re the ones facing what seems an intractable, impossible situation, and we are the ones being called to stretch out our hands.  In this case it is the hand of prayer, of intercession, seeing what great good God will bring us, what parting of the water where there seemed no path.

The situation with the Search Team is quite simple.  There have been three candidates.  All have withdrawn for a variety of reasons.  We would hope and pray that this was by God’s hand – perhaps not a hardening of hearts, but because God has a different plan for Good Shepherd.  The ads are now out there, but – seemingly – no one has responded yet.  At least, we haven’t seen it yet.  And if it helps, I’ve seen this happen before in a parish in search, further down the road when they thought they were finished! And yet it had a happy ending.

So this is the time to stand up, and raise the staff of prayer, and stretch out your faith in intercession, that the Holy Spirit will part this difficulty, and the path – and the ordained person – will be made visible.

This is not the time for wailing and bemoaning.  It is the time to stand firm, believe in the works of the Lord God, and let us see what glory he will bring to himself in answer, as WE continue to take steps forward in faith.

I was going to print up 7 days of prayers and reflections for this week.  But I decided not to.  You already have an abundance of prayer materials for the Search Team to be praying for them, as well as prayers for God’s will to be accomplished.  So go back to those prayers, understand the situation, lift up the Team and our whole Parish as WE who are stretching forth OUR hands.   If you have lost those materials, we’ve printed up the second set from our 40 Days – they’re on the narthex table, or just call the office and we will get them for you.

We will pray – and if you’d like to FAST, that would be appropriate – for 7 days.   And later, when we have received someone as our new rector, we will stand on the other side of the Sea, and we will sing and maybe beat some tambourines, and with outstretched hands, give thanks to the Lord.  For He is Good.

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