PREPARING FOR THE JOURNEY
Today, we are beginning a seven week series based on the experience of Israel during the Exodus wanderings. In this message I am going to give you a general overview and set us up for the next six weeks. I’m going to invite us to travel with the people of Israel as they make their Exodus journey to the Promised Land. That’s because, like them, we are a people in transition. We have come from one place and are going to another but also like them we don’t know exactly where we are going. We aren’t sure where God is taking us as we continue on this journey. We are very much like the people of Israel and I hope that we can learn from them as we travel this road together.
The Exodus journey for the people of Israel was one of discovery. God had rescued them from the slavery and bondage of Egypt and God had pledged to lead them to the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. But while the distance from Egypt to what is now Israel is only about 425 km and would normally take just a couple of weeks, it took the people 40 years to get there.
Why so long? It’s because the people did not know God. God needed that time to teach them and mold them into the people they needed to be so that, when they finally did enter the Promised Land, they could be faithful and fulfill all that God would call them to do. The journey was not just for sightseeing. It was for preparation of what was to come.
The journey for us will not take forty years. Our shortened version will take seven weeks. But do you know what seven weeks equals? It’s pretty close to 40 days so we are going to compact the forty year Exodus into forty days. Do you remember the forty day campaigns we did a few years ago: 40 Days of Purpose and 40 Days of Community. This is just one more and I think we’ll call it 40 Days of Promise.
So over the next forty days, we will focus on the promises of God but we will also focus on something else. In every story that we will engage from the book of Exodus we will discover that there are pitfalls along the way. In every story there is a moment when the at least some of the people begin to wonder if it is all worth it. Is the Promised Land worth all of this blood, sweat and tears or should just head back to Egypt? In the end, God leads them past the pitfalls to continue the journey. What we will discover is that we may very well encounter the same pitfalls that can block our way and stop us from ever getting to the Promised Land. But the people of Israel eventually got past the pitfalls and so will we when we faithfully follow God where he calls us to go.
A PEOPLE IN TRANSITION
Like the people of Israel, we are on a journey. Like the people of Israel, God has told us that he will lead us to the Promised Land. And like the people of Israel, we are a people in transition. But let’s pause right there for a moment. Why do I say that we are a people in transition? There are a few reasons. One is that we are always a people in transition. Nothing ever stays the same because things around us change. And as things around us change, we need to adapt or we simply get left behind. And if we get left behind, we get lost and if we get lost then we really don’t know where we are going. So transition is a normal part of ministry. It is, in fact, a normal part of life.
But it became evident to me as I thought about things through the summer that we are in a special place of transition in the life of this congregation for a number or reasons. Some of them we’ve talked about before. We have a new constitution and a new structure. We have a new Church Board filled with people who mostly have never been on the Church Board before. And while that’s exciting, it can also be a little scary. But on top of that, we also have a significant number of people in this congregation who are hurting. Some of you have lost loved ones in the past year. Grief has become a real issue. We have more people with serious illnesses in the congregation than I’ve seen since moving here thirteen years ago. Some of those illnesses involve people who have been in significant leadership roles for quite some time. Somehow, we need to find others who will take up the slack so that the ministry of Jesus Christ can continue. We also live in a community that is in transition. There has been a significant turnover of houses in Cottam and there are more new ones being built. Many of those houses are home to young families which means that both our community and our congregation are getting younger. That’s a good thing but how do minister effectively to a new generation? Like the people of Israel, we are a people in transition. But God has told us that he will lead us to the Promised Land and the journey that we take is one of preparation.
The other thing about transition, of course, is that we don’t know where the transition will take us. God only promised Israel that he would take them to the Promised Land. He didn’t tell them where it was. He just said, “Follow me and trust me.” That can go against our nature because we tend to want know where we are going. We like to plans. We like to be able to see ahead. We wish God would shine the light way out ahead of us so that we know what the future holds. But God rarely does that. More often than not all God shows us is there the next step takes us.
That’s okay because one of the big lessons on this 40 Days of Promise is to learn to trust God. Ultimately, we need to know that even if we don’t know where we are going, God does. Even if all we can see is one step ahead, God has already seen the whole journey. God knows where we are going even when we don’t. All we have to know is that if we are faithful and follow where God calls us to go, we will get to the Promised Land and when that day comes, we will rejoice.
So, let’s begin the journey.
THE SONG OF MOSES
Exodus 15:1-11 is called the Song of Moses. It comes at a critical juncture in the history of the people of Israel. If you know the story of the Exodus, God finally convinced Pharaoh to let the people go. In Exodus 14, God parted the waters of the Red Sea and the people moved across to the other side on dry land. But Pharaoh had a change of heart regarding letting the people go and so had his mighty army pursue them to bring them back. When they tried to cross the Red Sea, however, the sea rolled back and crushed Pharaoh’s army, horses, riders and chariots all. Finally, the people were safe. God had delivered them as God had promised he would.
And Moses begins to sing in Exodus 15:1 (NIV):
I will sing to the LORD
for he is highly exalted .
The horse and its rider
he has hurled into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God and I will exalt him.
This is not the least bit difficult to understand. Moses and the people are delighted that God has rescued them. Finally they are safe. The days of slavery and bondage are over. They are free to move ahead with their lives without fear of oppression or persecution. This is the day that they have been waiting for and they rejoice in what God has done.
In a nut shell, on this eve of the Exodus journey, Moses is leading the people in something that is significant. It is something that we need to do as well. Moses is reminding the people of where they are and how God’s hand has been involved in getting them to this place. Basically, he is giving thanks for where they are right now.
And that’s our first pitfall because far too often we forget to do that. We can get so involved in the journey to the Promised Land that we forget to give thanks for what God has already done. We are so busy looking forward that we forget to remember how we got to where we are.
That’s important for us to do right now. Today is the Cottam Horse Show and for the first time in quite a while, this church has a float in that parade. It’s going to be a dusty parade because Talbot Street in front of the church is all torn up. But it’s also a significant parade because it marks not only the 55th running of the Cottam Horse Show, it’s also the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Dominion of Canada and of this congregation. So there is a lot to celebrate today.
I don’t know if you remember the picture that was on the screen when you came in this morning but it was of the float that this congregation put in Cottam Horse Show parade to mark the 125th anniversary of this congregation. That was 25 years ago. It was packed with kids much as we hope will be the case with the float today. Quite a few of those kids grew up and are still in and around the church. Some of them are even beginning to take significant leadership roles. And some of them have grown up and become parents and their children are going to on the float today. How cool is that? We can be thankful that God has brought us from there to here. We can be thankful for parents who choose to make the effort to get their children to Sunday School so that they could come to know Jesus and live by faith.
We could review the history of this congregation and see significant milestones along the way that have brought us to where we are. Here just a couple of examples. More than seventy years ago, someone had the bright idea of holding the annual fall turkey supper on American Thanksgiving and the turkey supper was born which at one time was the largest annual dinner held in the United Church. We didn’t hold it last year but who knows what the future holds. In more recent history it was twenty-five years ago that the United Church in Albuna closed and some of its members transferred to Cottam United Church. Where would we be without people like the Raymonts, Carders, Cowans, Pattersons and others including our oldest member Ruby Archer who celebrated her 102nd birthday recently. We would be a very different congregation if that had not happened.
And then just after that this congregation called The Rev. Ken Bauman as its pastor. He was called because this congregation stated that it wanted to become more biblical and Christ centred. Ken was the right man for the job and took you at your word. That was a journey with a few speed bumps along the way but God blessed that ministry and Ken helped to lay the foundations of evangelical ministry that we are still building on today. This would be a very different church had you called someone else back then. During Ken’s time here, you decided to make a change in direction to the music ministry of this church and Lou-Anne was brought on staff. Where would we be without her inspiration and leadership. And she brought Larry and Sharon Chalmers who have done so much for our Sunday School. And then thirteen years ago, you called the Gilliland clan to Cottam. As I have told you before, we came with great reluctance, sometimes kicking and screaming but it was clear that God wanted us here to continue the work that Ken had started and we did. All of our lives would be very different if we had not come together.
I could tell dozens and dozens of stories about the things that we can be thankful for. There are so many individuals who have made such a difference to the life and work of this congregation over the years. But they would all point to the same thing. It is important to honour the past and be thankful for what God has done for us to bring us to this place.
That’s what Moses is getting at in his song. Before they begin their journey into the future, they first have to pause and give thanks to God for freeing them from the cruel bondage of slavery in Egypt. Moses then proceeds to make a list of what God had done for them. He sings of how God hurled the Egyptians into the sea. He sings of God’s strength and his acts of redemption. He sings of God’s strength over all of their enemies. He sings of how God humbles any who oppose him. And then he sums it all up in Exodus 15:11 (NIV) where he sings:
Who among the gods is like you, O LORD?
Who is like you –
majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
This is the God Moses worship. This is the God whom the people are going to get to know far better of the next forty years of their journey to the Promised Land. Along that journey the people would stumble and sometimes fall. They would be tempted to give up and they would be tempted to go back to Egypt. But they also discovered many more things that they could be thankful for.
But before they begin their forty year trek in the wilderness, they have to pause and remember how God has brought them to this place, right here right now.
We need to do the same thing. Many events have brought us here today. Many people have been faithful in order to keep this church a living faith community. Much hard work, sacrifice and prayer has gone into the building of this congregation. It is only because of the hard work and faithful dedication of those who have gone before us that we can stand here today. They were faithful as God is faithful.
As we begin our journey into the future, as we begin to discover what God would have us do, let’s try to keep a goal in mind. We are here because of the faithfulness of those who have gone before us. Another twenty-five years from now, or fifty or one hundred or even one hundred and fifty, may people look back at what we do now and say that we too were faithful, that we too followed the path that God placed before us, that we too laid the foundations upon which our descendants will build for many generations to come.
week we begin our journey to the Promised Land.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Life, you led our ancestors across the Red Sea, through the wilderness and into the Promised Land. We thank you for the stories of faith that have come to us through your Holy Scriptures. We thank you for the words and songs that remind us of the faithfulness of others who walked difficult paths.
God of Peace, you brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, of new life and new dreams. Help us to offer the milk of your blessings to others in a world where so many need to be set free. Our minds go memories of 9/11 thirteen years ago and we give thanks that we are still relatively safe. There are many who are putting themselves in harms way in order to keep the terrorists at bay. Help us to appreciate all they have done for us.
We also lift up in prayer the troubles of the world whether they be in the North Korea, the Middle East, Iraq or London, England. May your peace settle in people’s hearts and reign in every land.
You, O God, are our Heavenly Father. You sent Jesus to us to be our Saviour and Friend. You sent your Spirit to be our Comforter and Guide. Enable us to find you when we need you the most, that we may be strengthened and our hearts filled with joy.
We thank you for our Sunday School, for the children, teachers, parents and all of the other people who fulfill this ministry in various way. Enable us, O God, to reach the children of this community. There are so many children who live here and so few of them who are raised in the faith of Jesus. Help us to change that in large and small way by sharing your message with grace and compassion.
Our prayers are lifted up to you for those who are sick or recovering. We pray especially for Millicent, Sharon, Don, Helen and Jacqui. Grant your healing and Holy Spirit to each of them.
each of us, O God, to find you whenever we seek you. Strengthen our hearts that
we may be lifted up, for only in you are we truly set free. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
September 17, 2017 / Pentecost 15 / Proper 19
Exodus 14:19-31; Psalm 114 or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21; Matthew 18:21-35; Romans 14:1-12
CALL TO WORSHIP
Welcome to all who gather in this place of worship.
We come together as part of the family of God!
With our hearts, we lift our praises to God.
With our voices we proclaim God’s holy name.
Let us worship the Lord with song and prayer.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Gracious God, the hour for gathering has come. The time of worship is here. Draw us together out of our various activities that we may receive the renewing of your Spirit. We give you thanks for the lives and stories of those people who have gone before us. We celebrate the stories that we, too, live as your people. We come before you ready to listen to your Word and to respond with our lives. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Mercy, we remember our shortcomings and the times when we have been less than we can be. We are sorry that during times of weak faith, we have hurt others. We confess that, in our actions, we have failed you and one another. We repent of those times when we have been quick to pass judgment on others, causing pain and sorrow. We seek a new beginning so that we may live in your way. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
God is loving and forgiving, ready to give renewed hope and assurance to all those who need it, ready to give strength and salvation to all who seek it. The Good News of God is clear. We are forgiven of our sins and made whole through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Holy and Generous God, we offer these gifts to you. We offer our actions of love and commitment that we may work in partnership with you and keep your covenant now and forever. Amen.
Go in peace to be keepers of God’s promise that we, with love, may live and serve one another and all Creation.