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On this day when we celebrate music in the life of the church, I think it is appropriate that I teach you a little song. For the truth is, the greatest choir in the congregation is you. Did you know that? Every Sunday we have a choir of 100-400 people singing to God. I know this of course because of a song of course:
All God’s creatures got a place in the choir,
Some sing low, some sing higher;
Some sing loud on the telephone wire,
Some just clap their hands, their paws or anything they got now!
All God’s creatures got a place in the choir and that means you! So today, may I teach you a little song? I’ll teach you the chorus and I’ll cantor a line. The song comes from Cameroon and it was written many years ago in when Christian brothers and sisters were suffering under Apartheid in South Africa… I’ll sing that verse but then I’ll add some others that speak more to today:
The chorus goes like this:
Stand, O, Stand firm… and see what the Lord can do…
Cantor: O you people stand very firm
O Ethiopia stand very firm…
O Zimbabwe stand very firm…
O Gulf Coast stand very firm
O Haiti stand very firm
O God’s people stand very firm
It’s a song I think Moses would have liked to teach to the Israelites on that day they were on the run… because they could have used a song like this. In fact Moses says as much: "Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today…"
But they were afraid… and frankly, with good reason. You would have been afraid and so would I. Though they were 600, 000 males strong as they were escaping from Pharaoh… that’s about all they had going for them. They were fleeing on foot with nothing but their belongings they could carry and the clothes on their backs. Pharoah, who realized that he had made a mistake in letting 600,000 of the workforce of Egypt escape… had literally sent out his well financed army to bring them home. And he didn’t hold anything back… 600 chariots were deployed – chariots with the ability to move quickly and maneuver easily… hundreds of horses carrying the cavalry… chasing the Israelites…
Today we find that the army has caught up with Israel… and there is the Superpower of the world on one side of them… and the Red Sea on the other side. They are trapped… They are afraid. Who wouldn’t be?
"Stand, O Stand firm… and see what the Lord can do…"
Easy to sing… hard to believe. Hard to trust that the Lord can do anything in especially desperate times . And we know it.
We know what it is like to be afraid. We humans are just like that. Ever since 9-11 we’ve been afraid. So afraid we’ve deployed our resources to Iraq and Afghanistan… so we know what it is like to be afraid and to want to protect ourselves. I’m sure had Israel had the resources, they would have deployed them against Egypt. But they didn’t. Humans know what it is like to be afraid… Suicide bombers are afraid that if they don’t kill Jews or Americans… they will remain impoverished and occupied. Rather than trust, they build a bomb. We know what it’s like to be afraid and we know the very human response to fear-take matters in our own hands… because we’re afraid, the Lord is not up to it.
Stand, O Stand firm… and see what the Lord can do…
Well… to a point. Trust, but verify. Trust… but let’s make sure we have a fall back plan. It’s not that I don’t want to trust mind you. But it is hard. Which is why this story is told. Israel knew faith was hard and seldom comes easy. So they told this story- To remind me… to implore me… to encourage me… to trust this God. To trust this God with our lives. That’s what I think this story is meant to do. For just look at the Lord can do!
In this story… the Lord uses the forces of nature to provide a way to escape… winds blow… the sea turns into dry land… waters part… providing a path to freedom… When the army continues on their pursuit… God puts a stop to the pursuit… a dead stop. No more will they have to worry about Pharaoh re grouping… calling on more troops… to continue the chase. Do you see what the Lord can do?
Israel saw it. They finally believed it: at the end of the story the writer says:
"So the people believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses." They saw what the Lord could do and they believed.
Moses saw it… as did his sister Miriam. So great was this escape… so impressed were they by God-both Moses and Miriam led the people in songs to celebrate the special day…songs they would surely sing on every anniversary of the crossing of the Red Sea. Moses led the singing of this song: "I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously…" Miriam, the sister of Moses and a prophet had the tambourine in her hand and the women dancing as they sung: "Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea."
O, what a day… what a day it must have been when they saw what the Lord could do… had done… when death had stared them in the face and fear had paralyzed them.They were ready to sing for sure and to share with the rest of us that in whatever place of death and fear you face… they are ready to share with us and say to us…
"Stand firm… and see what the Lord can do…"
Sometimes I need to hear that. Do you? I know of many people who could use that word from the Lord. Days are dark…depression covers a soul like a cloud… Listen to the news and you hear the concern… consumer confidence is down… so is the stock market… gas prices rising… so are home foreclosures… I need to hear someone tell me to stand firm… and to see what the Lord can do… to see you through that time when you think there is no way out. No future in store.
Based on their experience, Israel would want you to know… to remember… this time of desperation may become for you when you learn to trust our God in a profound way. I think Israel would say to us, listen to them and listen those who have been there before you who have seen what the Lord can do. They can help you.
Have you fought a battle with cancer or illness? Talk to someone who has been there before you… who has experienced how the Lord has seen them through their time… and as you listen to them… you may find yourself gaining hope that the Lord can see you through this.
Are you between jobs and wondering where the next one will come from? Are you worried about losing your job?
Worried? Fearful? Talk to someone who has travelled that road before you… who has come out on the other side and you may find them encouraging you to stand firm… don’t give up… see what the Lord has done…
Are you worried about raising children in a world like ours? Listen to every generation of parents in this room who have worried in every generation about "raising children in a world like ours." Has there ever been a generation who has not worried about that? Talk to them… let them bear witness to you… to stand firm… don’t give up… the Lord will see you through this.
Are you fearful of living alone – you are young and single and you don’t want to be… and you wonder if you will always be alone… or you’ve had a divorce… or someone you love has died…talk to someone who has been on that journey of loneliness … or who has walked through that sea of grief before you… and let them speak to you of how the Lord saw them through this…
God’s people need to remember this. I’ve seen churches fearful of the future…I’m on a committee that deals with conflicted congregations… some have dealt with the despair of having a leader caught in an affair… some have been caught up in destructive church politics… and people are afraid… will the church survive?… and I want to say yes… other churches have survived… because the Lord has helped them through it… some have come out better… just stand firm, I tell them… and see what the Lord can do…
For that’s the point of this story, don’t you think? To encourage us in our faith… To help you… to help me… to help us… to learn trust… I mean really learn to trust in our God. So Kirk, as we journey with God… let us learn from our ancestors in the faith as we seek to live faithfully today. Indeed let us encourage one another as we journey together to:
Stand…o stand firm… and see what the Lord can do.