This weeks Sermon


Chan Willis – F.P.C.-L.C.

                                                                                                                                                      Sept. 17, 2017

 

“From Pillar to Host”

Exodus 14:19-22, 26, 28-31; Romans 14:7-9, 11

 

            As most of you are PAINFULLY aware, I have a particular penchant for ‘punny jokes’ and ‘old expressions.’  (being an ‘old, punny guy myself!’)  And so, as I read over this passage from Exodus… and its reference to the ‘pillar of cloud’… one of those old sayings came to mind:  “From Pillar… to Post.”  Familiar?  What does it mean?  As one of my ‘parishoners’ at Villa Maria said Tuesday, she defined it as “from beginning to end.  Less specifically, it simply can mean “from one place to another.  Actually dates back to the 15th Century, from a very early predecessor to the game of TENNIS.  Relative to the ‘rapid back and forth movement’ of the ball.  Other nuances of meaning refer to this ‘movement’ as being ‘fruitless’… due to a ‘harassing situation’… that causes one to be ‘forced to move.’ 

            There are some of these definitions that can readily be associated with the Israelites experience in today’s reading from Exodus.  It was certainly due to a ‘harassing situation’…i.e, Pharaoh’s army in hot pursuit… that Moses and company were being ‘forced to move.’  ‘Rapid movement’ that would take God’s chosen ones ‘from one place to another.’ 

            Of course, there are those parts that do NOT apply.  This was certainly no ‘game’… indeed, it was matter of life and death!  This movement was all about going ‘forth’… there was NO going ‘back.’  And while there were some fearful second thoughts about their decision, Moses would NOT have believed this journey to be ‘fruitless.’ 

            Much to the contrary, Moses and his people were seeking after a land that was quite ‘fruit-FULL!’  That promised land of milk and honey provided for them by the One True God of Israel, who was both leading them and awaiting their arrival.  They believed that the same God who saved them from death at the shores of the Red Sea would one day soon welcome them to a promised place of peace, rest, and providence.  The loving God and Father who would one day spread before his children a banquet feast to celebrate victory over death.

            And so, as we consider this ancient story of the Israelites’ deliverance from their enemies… a journey motivated by trusting in the One they believed waited for them at the end of the journey… perhaps we can see some of our own journey of life in theirs.   Of how we too can trust in that One True God who is with US… “From Pillar to Host.”

            The ‘pillar of cloud’ was a (super) ‘natural phenomenon’ that would protect God’s followers… if they would simply TRUST in God’s leadership and providence.  That ‘fellowship of follow-ship’ would result in the Israelites being SAVED FROM CERTAIN DEATH.  That ‘pillar’… a solid support that is not easily moved  was a unique manifestation of God’s presence.  A sign from God’s natural creation to communicate to his human creation that ‘God is with you.’

            Now you and I may not be readily able to relate to some tall, funnel-shaped  column of smoke that is cloud-by-day and ‘light-by-night.’  We can, however, relate to a ‘pillar’ … or more closely, ‘sure foundation’… that we can trust in for leadership and providence.  That ‘rock-solid’ support that is ‘not easily moved,’ who is a manifestation of God’s presence like no other.  Jesus Christ.  Emmanuel.  ‘God with us.’  It is by trusting in Him that we too are ‘saved from certain death.’

            And, by His example, I would suggest to you all that we too, this little ‘fellowship of followship,’ are called to be ‘pillars’ in the various communities in which we move:  ‘pillars’ of encouragement in our community of faith (the church)… from private homes, to public parks, to right here in these four walls; ‘pillars’ of service to new friends that we’ve just met… to the west (like Vinton), to the east (like Alabama), to the south (like N.O.), or right down the street (off Enterprise); ‘pillars’ of giving back to our local communities in serving as mentors… from children that are very young, to those who are not-so-young; ‘pillars’ that use our hands… whether to put on a ‘Virginia reel’, or to put on a child’s shoe.  EACH ONE OF YOU has been given gifts for leadership… provided by God… to use for His glory.  The kind of gifts that we celebrated Wednesday in our joyous celebration of ministry to our partner schools of Oak Park AND Fairview.  By the grace of God, EACH ONE OF YOU can be proven to be a solid support that is not easily moved  You are EACH a ‘unique manifestation of God’s presence.’ (Yes, some more ‘unique’ than others… )   We are ‘pillars for Christ’ on which others can come to lean on

            Not only are we to embody God’s presence in our care for others, but also to emphasize God’s protection for His beloved children… the God who welcomes us into His presence as a gracious HOST would to a dinner party, where we will be treated with love and our needs provided for… all in a safe, secure environment.

A place of comfort free from insecurity and fear.

            God’s miraculous parting of the sea… and releasing of it… was proof to the Israelites that their enemies would not overcome them.  God demonstrated His desire, and ability, to keep the Israelites safe, secure, free from fear.  And should it be to us.  That the same power of God that protected them will protect US… and defend us from those who would destroy us.  We must only TRUST...

            Many of you will remember this picture from last week. [pic of mother & child begin rescued from Hurr. Harvey floodwaters].  A real-live image of lives being saved in the midst of perilous waters.  I would ask you to put yourself in the place of that young mother:  Clutching your precious child tightly in your arms, being asked to allow you and your baby to be picked up out of a perfectly good boat to be carried across imposing flood waters that have already claimed all your worldly possessions.  You are being asked to entrust your life, and the life of one you love, to the arms of one you do not know…because you know that in doing so, you will be safe.  THAT, my friends, is FAITH…  The type of faith that WE are to have… to entrust OUR life, and the lives of THOSE WE LOVE, to the arms of One we hardly know… because in doing so, we know that will be SAFE.   

            It can be easy for us to relegate this Exodus story to an obscure time in ancient history… relevant only as a childhood memory of a ‘faith-filled fairy tale.’  But the fact of the matter is that we are to remember God’s deliverance from death of those pioneers of our faith every time we look at our baptismal font.  That in the same way that God saved them by a passage through the waters so too are we to be reminded that by ‘passage through the waters’ of our baptism, we too are saved from death.  Saved by the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself was baptized in the waters of the Jordan River.   That just as God claimed the ultimate victory over the earthly enemies of the Israelites, so too does He win the final victory for us over our earthly enemies of suffering and death.  The simple ‘key to victory’ for us?  FAITH.

In the verses that lead up to today’s passage, we read that with the Egyptian army bearing down on them, fearful that their demise was imminent, the Israelites confronted Moses, exclaiming that it would have been better to remain in their previous place of security… even though it would NOT been in their long-term best interest to do so.  Living in Bondage to fear was NOT the future of hope that God had in store for them.   In the midst of what they saw as a hope-LESS situation, their faithful leader offered these words of encouragement:

 “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the salvation that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” (Exodus 14:13-14)

The very desperation of their situation would lead them to the only power strong enough to overcome their ‘dire straits’—GOD.  They had to see that their salvation was entirely GOD’s work.  To make them see in a way like no other that, in Paul’s words, “we are the LORD’s!” (Romans 14:8)

            My friends, we are not unlike those wayward, grumbling Israelites.  We too look at our own situations, surrounded by fear, and can be paralyzed into believing we should just stay in the safety and security of our past.  Forgetting that God has promised his faithful followers, in those familiar words of the prophet Jeremiah, “hope and a future.”  Yes, it is our enemy… those forces of evil that cause us to fear and doubt… that would have us lose hope.  But may we take heed to those words of Moses:  “Do not be afraid… stand firm … see the salvation that the Lord will accomplish for you today. … The Lord will fight for you… you have only to keep still.”          NO MATTER WHAT MAY BEFALL US, may we hold on to the truth that “we are the Lord’s.”  ‘From pillar to Host’…

 

CHARGE/BENEDICTION

Earlier I referred to God as the ‘pillar’ on which we can count on to protect us… as we in turn are called to be ‘pillars’ for others to ‘lean on.’  And so, as you depart this place after the benediction, may the words of this secular song of benediction (“Lean on Me”) remind you of the spiritual truth of how much we need to ‘lean on’ one another, and most importantly, GOD!

As you go forth as the ‘pillar of strength’ on which others can ‘lean,’ know that you do not go alonethat you too have someone to ‘lean on’…