Sermon – Swapping Out the Lenses

Romans 14:1-12; Exodus 14:19-31

Farmville Presbyterian Church

September 17, 2023

– Seeing old stories in new ways/God helping us to see


If you had to pick any story in the Old Testament as the one to remember, perhaps anywhere in the Bible – the #1 story worth seeing on a big screen, it is this one – crossing the Red Sea.  I believe it was last week in the sermon that I recalled the epic movie, the Ten Commandments.  I was watching a show on YouTube by movie special effects experts who try to figure out how movies make some of the incredible shots that they do, and they considered this very scene of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea in the Ten Commandments, and they were impressed with the level of work accomplished in that day which was well before I was born.  I remember watching this when I was a child long before today’s movie magic and also being amazed.

It is an especially dramatic scene.  Moses has just let the people out of Egypt after the last of the gruesome plagues, hundred and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people.  They fled Egypt in haste and are even laden with Egyptian treasure which was given to them to leave, but Pharoah had a change of heart, again, and has decided to pursue the Israelites and bring them back.  The people are trapped on the shore of this large body of water and begin to despair.  It is a broken record for this people through this longer story, “Why couldn’t we have stayed in Egypt, Moses.  It would have been better if we had died in Egypt, Moses.  Why are we out here starving and dying of thirst, Moses.  We had it better when we were slaves, Moses.”  It is hard to truly imagine what that would have been like for them, but it is easy to imagine standing in Moses’ sandals and wondering, “Really?  Really?  You would really rather still be slaves?”

God did not want them to be slaves and freed them from Egypt already.  God had already delivered them from the Egyptians dramatically once, and now, God was going to do it, again.  But this is not the most important, the most iconic, the most dramatic, the most meaningful part of the Old Testament.  Yes, the Exodus as a whole might be the key to the entire Old Testament, but when they crossed the Jordan River into the Land of Promise, it was a more important crossing.  As I mentioned, they had already been freed decisively from Egypt once.  This moment here is more like icing on the cake.  As big as this moment of crossing sounds (and it does sound huge – just see Psalm 77 for another description of this moment), the more interesting work of God is not that God saves them but what God does so that they can be saved.  I’m thinking about that cloud of darkness and fire that moved from the beginning to guide them to the back to stand between the Egyptians and the Israelites.  God gave them space.  God gave them that moment of safe space to decide what to do.  The people had given up hope.  They were crying out.  It was decision time, and God then changed the game.  By moving that pillar of safety to their rear, they were walled off from the Egyptians.  Now, they could walk with God or not.  Whom were they going to follow?

With everything else going on here in the story, it is easy to overlook this very important point of how God works with us – not just back then but even to this day.  The passage from Romans is another example of this.  The church was divided.  People were being very judgmental over one another, imagine that.  It is striking how much judgment there is out there now, especially among the people of God who should know better.  If we are grounded in a love that we cannot ever earn, if we are a unsaveable people ourselves who were still saved, if we are only here by the grace of God, if everything about us is tainted by sin, then we should be incredible charitable toward others.  The special thing about us is that we recognize God’s love and transforming power that is for everyone.  We just see it.  We were given the space to find ourselves held in the Spirit’s embrace.

In the church in Rome, they were struggling to see that space, to feel room to live out their faith together.  Instead, it was an “I’m right and you’re wrong” kind of church.  It was a “my way is better than your way” kind of church.  Paul condemns this way of thinking for its stupidity.  “Let go of anything that does not matter, and what matters is Jesus is Lord of you and me and all of us.  We do not even belong to ourselves, living or dead.  Judgment belongs to one person and one person only.”

This is almost worse than the Egyptian army bearing down on the Israelites.  At least then they could see the threat.  It was obvious who the enemy was.  When the enemy is ourselves, it is a bit more tricky.

You all know I like to take pictures.  My earlier cameras came with lenses attached.  That glass on the front through which light brings an image was permanently affixed to the camera body, but as I got better cameras, the lenses became swappable.  Each kind of lens has a different use and different strength.  Some are better at far away and some up close.  Some are better for wide open and others very narrow pictures.  Some do a little bit of everything and some are hardly ever usable.  But a lens determines how you see the world.  Looking through a portrait lens is completely different from a wide-angle.  We can look through any of them, but we have to be willing to change them to get a better picture.

That’s what the space is for.  That is why God gives us space to decide just how we are going to live and do and relate to each other.  None of us is stuck in one way of thinking and doing and seeing things.  Sometimes, change is forced upon us, but even then, God is giving us space to see things differently.  No one has all the answers.  We don’t even have half of the answers half of the time.  We need to lean into the God space.  Look for God’s angel.  See Jesus as Lord of you and me and all of us now and forever.  It does not matter whether I am here or there or alive or dead – Jesus is still Lord.  It does not matter whether I decide to go this way or that or eat this or that or worship this way or that, Jesus is still Lord.

Runaway Bunny.

An amazing thing about the story is that the Momma Bunny allows the Baby Bunny to follow his impulses to get away from her any which way he can.  He wants to rebel and get away from her and home in all of those creative ways, but every time he does get away, she come right after him to make sure he knows he is still loved and valued and that he has a home, if he wants to come back.  That is the thing about that crossing the Red Sea story.  The people did not HAVE to cross.  God gave them space to make up their minds.  People could have just stayed where they were or wandered into the cloud or just headed off in any direction.  They had that space.  The Roman Christians had that space, too.  They could have continued being judgey with each other and criticizing and valuing each other, and many of them probably did.  We have that space to choose how we see God’s path and how we see each other, but we also need to see things differently if we are going to make the better choice.  No one is born seeing themselves or God the way we were meant to.

That’s why so many places are fighting each other today.  That’s why we have treated people truly horribly in the past.  That’s why today we would never vote for someone of the OTHER party.  There are big political questions out there, questions that need to be resolved quickly, but they do not get answered with a D or an R.  They get answered by people who see the world and all of its inhabitants as the Lord’s.  It is not ours to lord over.  We are not the Lord – never been and never will be.  Our questions get answered by people to truly love all of God’s children, by people who love justice and mercy and righteousness, not laws.  Use the laws to help people but do not love the law.  Love the Lord first, and when we are given those times of sacred space to decide who we are and whose we want to be, I pray that you go with your heart and choose Momma Bunny.  And yes, if you did not guess, Momma Bunny can stand in for God.  Her chasing the Baby Bunny is a beautiful picture of Christ Jesus, and in that heart, we always have a home together with all of God’s children.

To God be the glory.  Amen.