In just a little bit we will sing Wade in the Water as the Hymn of the Day.
Wade in the water, God’s a gonna trouble the water.
That is what life feels like sometimes. We are knee deep (or hip deep) in water – slowly, carefully making our way. Maybe pausing midway thinking, “How did I get here?”
The Israelites were not wading, they walked on dry land, but I bet they wondered as they walked, “How is this happening? How did we get here?” I imagine some of the older women turning to the young ones saying, “C’mon sister. Yahweh is setting us free. Don’t waste your time questioning. Walk.”
Theirs is the voice of the wisdom of years. Years of praying. Years of finding little ways to defy Pharaoh. Years of daily setting aside the torture of slavery and bondage, knowing that God hears their cries.
The Hebrew slaves put their trust in God – not knowing how deliverance would come but that one day…they would be free.
Faith: Then. Now. Next. (Faith Church's anniversary theme)
Did they somehow in their bones possess that verse that St. Paul would write centuries later?
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the confidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
It is that verse that our Faith Church ancestors held in their hearts. It is that verse which inspired the name of our church. Today we begin our six-week long anniversary celebration.
We share the stories of Faith.
· We tell the story of how God uses water to claim us through baptism.
· We tell the story of Jesus’s last supper in our communion liturgy to remind us of the gift of forgiveness as we eat the bread and wine/the body and blood of Jesus and then take Christ out into the world with us.
· Through stories we hear the wisdom of our ancestors.
· We listen to each other and how we live out our faith in the world today.
· We dream about the future, one that we maybe can’t even imagine, or one that we may not ever see but we know it is there because God has work for Faith Lutheran Church to do.
I think it is interesting that Moses tells God’s people, “Do not be afraid. The Lord will fight for you, and you only have to keep still.”
No instructions to build rafts or find a different way around the water or turn back and fight Pharaoh’s army. Nope. The instructions were, “keep still”. And when it was time to walk through the sea, even though it did not seem logical, they trusted God and they walked.
This is the deliverer-people relationship.
God will fight for you. Keep still.
Christ died for you. Trust. Have faith even when you cannot see or don’t understand.
Our Hymn of the Day – Wade in the Water – was originally a negro spiritual. Scholars believe it gave instruction for slaves to escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad in the 1800’s. It had practical advice, “Walk through the water and the dogs may lose your scent.” Crossing through the Ohio River meant crossing the boundary from slave to free territories.
The songs the slaves sung were an act of defiance, an act of hope. The slaves in the American south were not allowed to sing or dance. That law was one of many, meant to keep slaves hopeless and docile. But they could sing religious songs, especially while they worked in the fields. They used that opportunity in their favor and sang about characters and stories from the Bible that told how God would set his people free. They sung the stories that God’s people would not be bound forever – by humans or by sin.
They sang of troubled waters. There is power in acknowledging that life is difficult, unpredictable, dangerous. That power stirred their sense of hope.
Howard Thurman, Dean of the Chapel of Howard University took hope from this spiritual: He said, “Do not shrink from moving confidently out into the choppy seas. Wade in the water because God is troubling the water.”
God is with us in all of life. This is what we call Theology of the Cross. Jesus entered the emptiness of death so that it would never be empty for us. Jesus lived, died and lives again – paving the way for us so that we have life with God now and after we die.
While I certainly do not compare the circumstances of our lives to slaves in the U.S., we recognize that we also have times when we are in choppy seas. Illness. Addiction. Loneliness. Grief. Unemployment.
The choppy seas also exemplify the combative adversarial culture in our country.
Do God’s words “Keep still” apply to us today? How is it we keep still yet also take that step forward when God opens a path for us? God’s invitation for stillness is not lack of movement on our outside. God’s stillness calls us to look inward quieting ourselves, listening for God.
Maybe that path that God opens up for us is not dry land but soaking wet, leading us into the deep end. We enter the water knowing and trusting God is there: Above us. Below us. Alongside us. Within us. (make the sign of the cross)
In last week’s sermon, we heard that God’s Passover of the faithful meant life. While all the first born of Egypt were killed, those who believed in Yahweh were spared. Now this week too, God’s people are given new life – again – as they cross on dry ground God laid in front of them. They get to the other side of the sea and can’t help but sing! Miriam, Moses’ sister, leads them in a joyful song thanking God for their very lives.
We will sing the Canticle of Miriam during the offering today, following the example of defiant hope of both the Israelites and the African slaves in colonial America.
As we celebrate our faith: big F – the 70th anniversary of Faith Lutheran Church; or little f – the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we will hear stories of life with God from our congregation. Sometimes memories may end up sounding neat and tidy, but the experience is real life. Difficult. Messy. Maybe very loud or too quiet. They all are probably very wet!
We will hear how God transforms us for work in this congregation and the world.
We will hear how the Holy Spirit comes to us in times of joy and pain through the presence of each other.
We will share stories of how a ministry, a person or an experience gave us a glimpse of the mystery of God – unbridled joy, unconditional love, or even profound humility – when we knew God was with us in the water.
Stories of life.
Life with God: Then. Now. Next.