May 14 – Do Not Be Afraid; Stand Firm; and See What God is Going to Do!- Rev. Soozi Whitten Ford

May 14 – Do Not Be Afraid; Stand Firm; and See What God is Going to Do!

Many of you know that one of my favorite biblical stories is found in Exodus 14. Pharaoh released the Israelites from captivity and God led them on a longer-than-usual journey towards the Red Sea, providing the pillars of cloud and fire to guide them so they could travel day and night, without stopping. Later Pharaoh changed his mind and led his mighty army to chase after the Israelites. As the Egyptians advanced upon them, the Israelites cried out in fear and hysteria to God – but directed their angry questions to Moses, their leader.

Moses’ response was simple: do not be afraid; stand firm; and see (or watch) what God is going to do. Then God instructed Moses, “Tell the Israelites to go forward.” The Exodus narrative continues with Moses being directed to lift his staff and stretch out his arms to provide a path for the people to cross the sea on dry ground.

In the Jewish Midrash (interpretation of an event, often in narrative form) version, the people move towards the sea, whining and complaining and questioning the entire time. As soon as they arrived at the water’s edge Nahshon plunged in first, even before Moses lifted his arms to part the sea. Nahshon was the head of the tribe of Judah (Numbers 1:7), brother-in-law to Aaron (Exodus 6:23), and is included in the genealogy of Jesus by both Matthew (1:4) and Luke (3:32). The water came to Nahshon’s ankles, and he kept going. The water came to his knees, his hips, and his chest, but did not part, and yet Nahshon moved deeper still. The water reached his chin and his mouth. He kept moving forward and it was only when the water came to Nahshon’s nose – and was about to cut off his ability to breathe – that the mighty sea parted.[1]

I am convinced that followers of Jesus are in a season of great opportunity.  Yes, even in this pandemic season! Pastors and people are reporting that online participation usually far exceeds their typical physical worship attendance. I suspect that there are those who participate via an online platform hunger for connection, community, and a spiritual space that has not been satisfied with (at least some) of our pre-pandemic church practices. How will we nurture and disciple these emerging online communities as we move further into, and beyond, this season? Likewise, this season has illuminated great needs in our communities for better access to health care, mental health services, and basic necessities. What might need to change in terms of our priorities, ministry position descriptions, and the allocation of staff, volunteers, and resources to live into the opportunities God is placing before us to serve those whom God has placed before us?

Like the Israelites, it is easy to hang with the crowds who are seeking to place blame for the realities of a situation or, worse yet, eagerly voicing their desire to “go back to what we knew before this” (i.e. back to “normal”). It is more difficult – at least for some – to believe God’s very real promise to not be consumed in the midst of fear, to stand firm, and witness what God is doing, and will do, to transform our reality. But the most difficult of all? To be like Nashon, remembering the purpose to which God has called us AND taking the necessary courageous steps – plunging into the promise – even when a sea of uncertainty threatens to drown us.  “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…for I am the Lord our God” (Isaiah 43:1a-3a).

 

Together on God’s Abundant Journey,

Rev. Soozi Whitten Ford

[1] I am grateful to Rev. Lauren Ng (ABHMS Director of Leadership Empowerment) for sharing this Midrash version of the Great Exodus story.