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Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 02 2022

Posted on October 6, 2022, Pastor: Pastor Lara Forbes

Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service. 

October 02, 2022

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost 

Exodus 14:5-7, 10-14, 21-29
Matthew 2:13-15

Worship Service Video Sermon  Video Sermon  Audio

Sermon Text:

Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Last week, we heard part of the story of Joseph. And a lot happened between where that reading ended and where we pick up today. So here’s a very brief summary.

Where we left off with Joseph, he had been falsely imprisoned. But we know that he didn’t stay there – that God was with him and made him prosper. And he was eventually released into Pharaoh’s household and ultimately made second in command in all of Egypt.

He’d gone from being basically a nobody, to being the one that saved the Egyptians and others from famine. And eventually he reconciled with his brothers and with his father.

Their family moved to Egypt because life was more sustainable there in those years. And Joseph was able to see the descendants of his brothers to the third generation. The book of Genesis ends with Joseph’s death, after he promises his brothers that God will come and lift them out of Egypt and take them to the land that had been promised to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

Today’s reading happens 400 years or so after that. The Israelites had grown in number, a new Pharaoh was in power and had enslaved them. Moses is one of the few Hebrew babies to survive a death order and eventually becomes their leader, despite trying to get out of God’s call to him.

Where we pick up today is after the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn. Pharaoh has said, “I give up. Take everything and all of you just go.” And after the Israelites have left, Pharaoh changes his mind and marshals the troops to go and bring them back.

In the 400 years between Joseph and the enslavement of the Israelites, the people’s relationship with God had faded. And by the time God called Moses as their leader, the relationship essentially didn’t exist. [1]So when the people cried out to be freed from slavery, they didn’t cry out to anyone in particular. But God heard them and remembered the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

I mentioned at the beginning of worship that this story is violent, especially the part we read today. The hard part about it for us as Christians is that in this story, God is a warrior God, and we can’t ignore that.

But we also see the God who rescues God’s people and has steadfast love that endures. And when the people are pinned between the sea and the Egyptian army, facing the loss of their hope of freedom and being returned to an empire that wants its slaves back at all cost, they need both of those parts of God’s character.

That doesn’t make it any easier for us to reconcile, but that’s the reality of the situation they were in. Because in that moment, they couldn’t imagine a way out – there’s no way they could have. But it’s also in that moment that God acted.

God created a way forward where there wasn’t one. God created a path for the people – dry land where there wasn’t any before, and clear direction to the other side. And in that action, God birthed a new people and defined their identity for generations to come.

They didn’t have it easy after that. But crossing the sea is the moment that sustains the people and it’s still commemorated every year at the Passover meal. Because it’s the moment that solidified their relationship with God. It got them to the next place, and they trusted that God would be with them through whatever happened, because God was faithful to the covenant.

In the thousands of years since the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, stories of God’s faithfulness have been recorded in scripture. All the times the covenant has been remembered and honored. For us, as Christians, it was fulfilled in Jesus and continues to be made visible in our lives as individuals and as a congregation.

We’ve heard our families tell stories of their experiences of God’s faithfulness. We’ve told our own stories about it. Our congregation has its own stories and memories of God’s faithfulness. And even though God’s faithfulness never changes, it changes us because it’s always moving us forward.

Sometimes those changes are gradual, and we don’t notice them until we’re on to the next thing. Sometimes they’re more sudden and dramatic – which can be either exciting or unsettling.

In the letter that Carolynn and I sent at the end of August, and in my article in the current issue of the VOICE newsletter, we talk about how we aren’t the same congregation that we were at the beginning of the pandemic.

Some of the changes had already been happening and Covid accelerated them – like families leaving the area. Some because a new pastor came; some because they moved to be closer to extended family; and some because they can’t afford to live in Bellevue.

Some of the changes are ones we couldn’t have imagined – like livestreaming our services every week. Within two weeks of starting that ministry, we heard from congregation members that are homebound what a lifeline it is for them. Because for the first time in years for some of them, they feel like they’re part of the community again.

New small groups formed organically, creating new friendships. We gathered outside last December to drink cider and sing Christmas carols. And there’s more to come.

We aren’t done changing because we aren’t done growing – and for as scary as that might sound, it means we’re alive. Because when there’s no change at all, that’s flatlining. And I’m not talking about change for change’s sake, that isn’t helpful. I’m talking about honestly examining who we are, what our resources are, and who’s in our surrounding community. And seeking to serve the places where all of those answers come together.

In a sense, as a congregation, we are where the Israelites were before they crossed the sea. We’re in a place we’ve never been before and we don’t know what’s next. “Going back” is tempting because we know what that’s like – it feels secure because it’s familiar.

The tricky part, though, is that after two-plus years of pandemic what we had before doesn’t exist anymore. Going back to it won’t recapture or re-create what used to be.

And to move forward is scary, because it means entering into new and unfamiliar territory; we can’t imagine what’s there and what it will be like. We’re in the process of learning how to get there – and I mean “We – all of us.” We’re in this together.

What we know about this in-between place is that God is creating a way forward because that’s who God is and what God does.

God doesn’t let things just sit – God creates and renews. The painful part for us, is that it means we can’t hold onto everything forever because we can’t keep doing everything all the time. We can’t take everything with us.

What we do hold onto, though, what always comes with us, is God’s faithfulness. It defines who we are – our core values of worship, outreach, relationship, and discipleship. And it shapes our mission which is, say it with me: Growing together in Christ to love and serve all people.

Wherever God leads us, that is who we are and what we do. It both defines us and frees us. Because at its core is God’s faithfulness to us, and that never changes. Thanks be to God! Amen.

[1] Exodus 2:23-24