When You Want to Quit: Sermon Preached at Federated Church
Do you remember the last time you quit something? We’ve all been there . . . if not some time this week!
We might want to quit our jobs (no me! I just started). We might want to quit going to the gym. Or, we might want our kids or grandkids to quit the soccer team because we are tired of taking them to practice.
Though you might perceive me to be a well-traveled person who’s lived in a lot of places in the US and visited many countries around the world, this has not always been the case. Wanting to quit on trips was an emotion I often expressed as a child.
I would weep when my mom put me on the bus for an overnight field trip. I would call home crying when I went to summer camp. And I would count the days till I got to sleep in my own bed at night when I went to visit my grandparents.
But, even with all of this true, I always wanted to TRY to be like my braver friends.
When I was a junior in high school, living in Chattanooga, TN, I heard about an opportunity to be a summer missionary in Charleston, SC through my local church association. I signed up right away. I was so excited that I started organizing what I was going to pack as soon I got word of my acceptance into the program. I couldn’t wait to teach Vacation Bible School all summer long.
It was a big moment of spiritual crossroads for me. Though I’d grown up in youth group and called myself a Christian, going somewhere for 6 whole weeks, 7 hours from home felt like a leap beyond a leap of faith at the time. Yet, even still, I felt at peace and assured that this is what God wanted me to do. So I left home with joy in my steps and all was going great . . .
Until I arrived in the actual apartment complex in Charleston where I was to live for the summer . . .
And it all got real. I found myself with a bunk bed in a room with three other girls when I’d never shared a room with anyone before. I’d be asked to stay up for late nights meetings and rise early for worship. I was served food for lunch that I didn’t particularly care for. It was nothing like home.
My homesickness got worse and worse. I called not only my mom but BOTH of my grandmothers collect every day from the closet crying.
All of the confidence I’d come to Charleston with and all the prayers my home church prayed over me when I left seemed like nothing worth fighting for anymore. I just wanted to go home. Who cared about all of that spiritual calling stuff anyway?
Maybe God didn’t want me in Charleston for the summer after all?
And the same was true of the Israelites in our Old Testament reading for this morning. We meet them at a point of spiritual discernment where they were thinking about quitting as well.
But this is the background that we need to know first: for over 400 years, the Israelites lived as slaves in Egypt. But there came a point when God heard their cries for deliverance from their lot. God called Moses to lead them out. But Pharaoh said no. And no again.
So, in response to Pharaoh’s stubbornness came the 10 plagues: the blood, the darkness, the frogs, and so on. Finally came the death of all of the first-born sons without the blood of a spotless lamb on their door. Pharaoh’s beloved son died too. He was so heartbroken that finally he said the Israelites could leave Egypt. Moses, aided by his brother Aaron gathered the people up and sets out for the Promise Land, a place where they could worship their God freely.
It was an exciting time in the life of this beloved nation of people. The signs of God’s presence were clear. It was obvious that the LORD was with them. Even more so, Moses proved himself to be a leader in tune with God’s plans. They were on the edge of complete freedom! Nobody was going to work for anybody other than himself or herself ever again. Everything was going so well as they left Egypt toward greener pastures.
BUT, this was until, as verse 10 of our text for this morning says, “Pharaoh drew near.”
Pharaoh, you see, had quickly changed his mind about letting his best and most prized labor force go so quickly. He gathered up his officers and their chariots and rushed into the wilderness toward his former subjects. (It’s a good point to stop and let visions of Charlton Heston’s Ten Commandments fill our heads).
Can you see it? As the Israelites stood around their tents and their camels and their goats, they heard the sound in the distance of what felt like failure on their heels.
And though they’d come so far in this journey with God. And though God had been so present to them only hours before, in this moment all seemed lost.
I can imagine the Israelites wanted to run for the closets and call their friends back in Egypt, telling them how scary it was out in the wilderness and that they wanted to come home soon.
They too believed they’d heard God wrong—about all of this deliverance from slavery stuff—and really, really wanted to stop all this nonsense ASAP.
So, they say to Moses in verse 11, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bring us out of Egypt?”
The Israelites weren’t a little afraid but shaking in their boots afraid! And they chose a path beginning to name the worst-case scenario and telling Moses in this moment of crisis that it was all his fault!
When you and I find ourselves in frightening situations like this what do we do?
Some of us choose to run back toward what is familiar, make the conscious choice to stay in the abuse of what is to come—because we don’t think there is anything better for us.
Some of us choose to ignore the situation, letting our minds find comfort in some fantasy world.
Or some of us follow in the example of the Israelites and make a list in our heads of all of the worst what ifs and of course blaming someone else!
But, I wonder what God has to say about this?
Scripture tells us that as the Israelites shared with Moses their concerns, he has a word of encouragement for them from God: “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today . . . The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
And here in this declaration of hope we get to the heart of what faith is all about: believing in what is unseen.
Though the Israelites wanted to quit, God says to them, “Well, hold up just a minute. Have some faith in Me! I’ve got this.”
Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners tells the story about a trip he took to South Africa in 1987. Nelson Mandela was still in prison. Apartied was alive and well.
During his trip, he said, “I met a 14-year-old boy who was, like many, organizing in elementary and high schools [toward social change]. I asked him if he was optimistic for the future and he said, ‘Yes.’ [Then] I asked him if he thought there would be a new, free South Africa someday, and he stated to me matter-of-factly, ‘I shall see to it personally.’ …There is simply no other alternative than for each person to see to it personally.”[1
Though we all know in 1994 this boy’s vision became a reality, you can imagine how crazy he sounded in 1987? Reconciliation in South Africa in his lifetime? Release of Nelson Mandela? He had to be kidding, right?
And in the same way, Moses’ words to the Israelites must have sounded similar when he gave them this word of the LORD: “I will fight for you. You only need to stand still.”
For fear would not get the last word. God would. The Israelites just needed to have faith to see this movement of God through.
It’s a very preacherly thing to say, isn’t it? “Have faith.” And you’ll learn to know about me that I really don’t like saying things that most preachers say.
Let me explain. Having faith, I believe is not a snap your fingers and will yourself into having sort of feeling but it is a process.
Faith begins with understanding God rightly. God is not us. God is mystery. God’s ways are never like our own. What we see before our eyes is not all there is in this world—the kingdom of God is bigger we can imagine.
And, the story of God’s work in this world is not about you and me, really. It’s a spiritual story that none of us could attempt to write, even if we wanted to. And it is fueled by power that is altogether not of this world.
And second, faith is not about the absence of fear but not letting fear get the best of us.
Author Madeleine L’Engle was asked, “Do you believe in God without any doubts?” she replied, ‘I believe in God with all my doubts.
And we too might always have doubts.
In the case of Israel, Biblical commentator, Gerald Janzen writes beautifully about this kind of faith, which is “the willingness to pick up and carry one’s fear in one’s bosom like a weaned child and go forward in the direction that trust calls for.”
In modern times, it’s like standing on the edge of the high dive board and being scared out of your mind, but still jumping off.
It’s like being asked to sing a solo in church and having sweaty palms and shaky knees, but still getting out the first note.
It’s like being a student missionary, a day’s car ride away from home at age 17 and not quitting the summer internship over love of your mom’s cooking and the security of your own room.
At that moment that day by the Red Sea when Israel was ready to quit, God gave them an invitation to a faith journey.
They weren’t always going to know what was next.
They weren’t always going to be perfectly calm.
They weren’t always going to have “that peace that passes understanding.”
But they could stand there and endure the fear.
They could wait and allow God to do what God could only do.
What follows in the rest of Exodus 14 is one of the most powerful stories of deliverance in all of scripture. The Red Sea opens and the Israelites walk straight through to safety on the other side. The Egyptians chasing them get swallowed up in the waves of the sea, never to hurt them again.
And the same is true for us on a similar faith journey hundreds of years later. We are ALL going to have times in our lives when we want to quit, throw in the
towel on relationships and walk out of meetings because we are so frustrated. Being a so-called “mature” Christian is never going to change this. To be a human being is to know fear—to taste it, to smell it and to know it inside your soul.
But in our walk with the Lord, we don’t have to be bound by our “what if” fears. We can trust in the great power of our God and take comfort in the fact that we don’t understand.
As we stand still, our help is on its way. What my help and your help might be in the situations in our lives that produce the most fear for us, I don’t know.
But this morning I claim to the promise of the old spiritual, which says, “He never failed me. He never failed me yet!”
Thanks be to God.