16913 Germantown Road
Germantown, Maryland 20875-0320
Crossing the Red Sea
Presenter:Rev. Amy Russell
Sermon Date:Sun, 04/09/2006
There was an article in the Post the other day that showed that scientists are trying to prove that it may have been possible that the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites was aided by the water actually being blown by high wind. They are trying to prove this as a scientific possibility at that historic time. It kind of makes you wonder at scientific inquiry and its usefulness.
It seems quite clear to most of us reading the account that it is a metaphoric example of how the power of faith can lead one through an incredible, risky adventure and come through unscathed. The beautiful description of “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 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.” Exodus 14:19-20
The idea that an angel of God could protect us by day leading them with a “pillar of cloud” and with a “pillar of fire by night, to give them light”. This powerful image could give one courage to do whatever one had to do. Taking risks in one’s life based on a belief that you were being led by this pillar of strength gives one pause.
When we take risks, what is our pillar of strength? When we toy with ideas about changing our lives- embarking on a new career, getting committed in a relationship, going traveling in a new way, or exploring a new spiritual direction, what encourages us onward? And what holds us back? What allows us to take risks that feel scary and unknown? And when do we feel that risks are not possible in our lives?
Tom Ashbrook, the former journalist and recent internet entrepreneur, recently wrote a book about the huge risk he took in investing in an internet business. He already had a successful publishing, one that supported him and his family. But it didn’t challenge or invigorate him. He decided to risk all his capital on a creation of his own called “HomePortfolio.com”. He says that he doesn’t know much about economics or business but that he wanted to prove to himself and his children that taking risks was a way to live a full life. He said “I didn’t want to be someone who clung to that desk as the industry eroded underneath it just for that weekly paycheck.” (“Look Before You Leap, But Leap”, Netpreneur.com) It seems that passion for life was Ashbrook’s catalyst, and determination and confidence was his “pillar of fire”. Ashbrook compared the risk to “throwing yourself off a cliff and building your wings on the way down”. It seems like throwing yourself off a cliff, along with your family’s financial future is a crazy way to life, but Ashbrook felt that living safely was like dying. If you don’t live your passion, you might as well be dead, he felt.
People who take risks need something to hold onto. They can hold onto their belief in themselves, their belief in God, their belief in the people they love or the community that surrounds them, but they must believe in something. When you take that leap, you need to know that there is a firm platform under you that you can land on.
Bill Treasurer, a consultant who helps people define the risks they want to take, encourages people contemplating risk taking to give up the “status quo” of their present situation by breaking the risk down into smaller steps to see how far they want to go, a little at a time. He says to “make fear work for you” by allowing fear to arouse you into courageous action. Risk taking is heady stuff and can be intoxicating if you let it. But find the right balance of fear- just enough that you can personally handle.
Part of risking he says, is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Many of us have difficulty in taking risks because we fear that we’ll be wrong or unsuccessful and we can’t bear to live that that label. So we stay in our safe places, our boring jobs, our dead relationships, our safe hobbies because the alternative might be would we perceive as failure.
One of the biggest risks we take is in opening ourselves up in our relationships. Often early in a relationship, the opportunity of being open to another presents itself. And sometimes we take that risk, often we don’t. Many of us don’t take the opportunity to open ourselves to others, because we’ve been hurt in the past. Our past experience colors every experience we have. And when we can’t look beyond a past hurt to future possibilities, we can’t see that taking a risk- one that seems safe- is the door to open intimacy. In an intimate relationship, we find ourselves able to truly be ourselves. We find a give and take that allows us to explore facets of ourselves, we didn’t know we had.
Another reason that people don’t risk is because of fear of loss. We have lost people and jobs before and we don’t want to repeat that pain. So we close ourselves off from that possibility by not risking anything. We don’t try new relationships, new jobs, new anything because that could mean losing them.
Why do some people overcome these fears and some don’t. I think it depends on our foundation of trust of life. All of us have some basis for trusting some parts of life. How much we trust life and how much we allow our fear to control us shapes much of what we will choose as risks. If we have a lot of fear of life, we will take few risks. If we have a basic solid foundation of trusting life, we will take more risks.
For some the trust in life is defined by a relationship with a sacred Other. For some, the trust of life comes from within them. And for some trust in life is based in the love of family, friends, and community.
The Israelites allowed Moses to lead them out of Egpyt, out of bondage, to an unknown and much less comfortable life. Once they crossed the Red Sea, they started wandering in the wilderness and life was not easy there. They didn’t have food or water, and pretty soon the exciting adventure of escaping the Egyptians started to seem like a pretty dim idea. They began to complain to Moses. They complained that in Egypt, while they were slaves, they had plenty to eat and drink and shelter to live in.
The Lord said to Moses that each night it would “rain bread” from heaven. And in fact, when they woke up the next morning, when the dew lifted, the desert floor was covered with a “fine, flaky substance” that the Israelites gathered for food. They called this food “ manna”. They were warned only to take as much as they needed, not to take any more than they needed. But of course, since human beings are greedy, they took more than they needed and tried to save it away. But the next day, the food they had saved was full of worms. They had to learn just to take what they needed and no more.
And when the people complained to Moses that they were thirsty, the Lord told Moses to take up his staff and strike a rock, and water will come out of it. Moses did so and the water trickled down from the rock, giving the people plenty to drink.
So the people of God’s covenant with Abraham, the Israelites did not have trust. They continued to test God and complain about their circumstances, much like many of us. But slowly over the forty years in the desert with only the manna from the desert floor and the trickles of water they could find, they slowly built their trust in the Lord. Until finally, one day, after Moses had died and Josha was now leading them, they were ready to cross the River Jordan into Jerusalem and claim their land that God had promised them.
And once again, the River Jordan across from Jerico dried up on one side and allowed the Israelites to cross over to the other side. And when the Israelites came up to the wall of Jerico, the Lord told Joshua to have the people shout and seven rams’ horns to blow on the seventh day. They did so and the walls came tumbling down.
African American slaves when escaping from slavery in this country sung many spirituals that described some of these events of the Israelites as they slipped from their bondage. The stories in the Hebrew Testament about God helping the Jews to find their freedom spoke to the slaves in the South. It spoke to them of the courage it took to take great risks in running for your life. Running toward freedom and away from those who would take it away from you.
These songs are an inspiration to us today when we are considering great risks in our lives. They have inspired countless people in this country when our nation was considering taking risks to change our nation.
Our nation took a risk when Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves.
Our nation took a risk when women won the right to vote in 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment.
Our nation took a risk in 1964 in the passage of the Civil Rights act granting equal access to housing and education.
Our nation took a risk when our Supreme Court recognized the right for women to have control over their own bodies in the Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion in 1973.
These risks were based on a belief in something. That something was a belief that every human being has inherent worth and dignity. Each person has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
These risks that humans make everyday are based on a belief in oneself, or belief in an all encompassing Loving Presence that fills us with the knowledge about ourselves and what we can do, or a belief in one’s fellow human beings and the healing power of community.
Each year at this time, families gather for a special meal called a seder. In this meal, special foods are prepared that symbolize the pain and suffering of the Jews, the bitterness of slavery, the matzah which is the unleavened bread eaten to remind Jews of their quick flight out of Egypt when they didn’t have time to let the dough rise, and the wine used to celebrate the sweetness of freedom. During the ritual meal, prayers are said over each cup of wine and each tasting of the ritual foods, making it a sacred sharing of food with special memories. These traditions are centuries old and have been handed down through the generations taking on new shapes and new words, but maintaining the original meaning- the gratitude towards God for making us free people.
Becoming free people means living our lives with freedom. And that often means taking risks. Taking risks toward creating lives for ourselves that can be lived with joy and passion, rather than lives with compromises and boredom. Taking risks for others as well. Taking risks as a religious community as we are doing to build a church that many others can come to and learn about the freeing nature of Unitarian Universalism. Taking risks in standing for freedom by witnessing for the civil rights of all to marry whom they wish.
At many seders, the story about the courage of the Israelites and their belief in their Lord is told. It is told in words like these taken from a Haggadah, or a seder sacred script:
How plentiful are the reasons for our gratitude to God for the many favors bestowed upon us! God brought us out of Egypt, divided the Red Sea for us, permitted us to cross on dry land, sustained us for forty years in the desert, fed us with manna, ordained the Sabbath, brought us to Mount Sinai, gave us the Torah, led us into the land of Israel, built for us the Temple, sent us prophets of truth, and made us a holy people to perfect the world under the kingdom of the Almighty, in truth and in righteousness.
Therefore, let us rejoice
And let us end with this prayer:
Let us remember,
Amen. So be it.