Sermon for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost 
(Proper 19)

Text: Exodus 14:10-31
The Lord said to Moses, "Why are you crying out for help? Tell the people to move forward. Lift up your walking stick and hold it out over the sea. The water will divide, and the Israelites will be able to walk through the sea on dry ground. I will make the Egyptians so stubborn that they will go in after them, and I will gain honour by my victory over the king, his army, his chariots, and his drivers. When I defeat them, the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord." The angel of God, who had been in front of the army of Israel, moved and went to the rear. The pillar of cloud also moved until it was between the Egyptians and the Israelites. The cloud made it dark for the Egyptians, but gave light to the people of Israel, and so the armies could not come near each other all night. (verses 15-20).

When fear is near

Fear is a human response that is part of every person. One day at a busy airport, the passengers on a commercial airliner are seated, waiting for the cockpit crew to show up so they can get under way. The pilot and co-pilot finally appear in the rear of the plane, and begin walking to the cockpit through the centre aisle. The pilot is using a white cane, bumping into passengers right and left as he stumbles down the aisle, and the co-pilot is using a guide dog. Both have their eyes covered with huge sunglasses. Both appear to be blind. At first, the passengers do not react; thinking that it must be some sort of practical joke. However, after a few minutes, the engines start revving and the airplane starts moving down the runway.

The passengers look at each other with some uneasiness, whispering among themselves and looking desperately to the flight attendants for reassurance. Then the airplane starts accelerating rapidly and people begin panicking. Some passengers are praying, and as the plane gets closer and closer to the end of the runway, the voices are becoming more and more hysterical. Finally, when the airplane was almost at the end of the runway and the screaming was the loudest, the airplane lifts off and is airborne. Up in the cockpit, the blind co-pilot breathes a sigh of relief and says to the blind pilot, "You know, one of these days the passengers aren’t going to scream, and you’re gonna kill us all!"

There are many things that strike fear in our hearts. The news that a child or grandchild has been hurt at school and taken by ambulance to the hospital strikes fear in parents.
When you hear that your workplace is downsizing and your department has been abolished, the loss of work and income causes fear.
A woman the other day told me how much nerve it took her to leave her home. She couldn’t go near anyone wearing perfume, deodorant, aftershave etc. for fear of a severe allergic reaction.
Lots of people are afraid of heights; some are afraid of small rooms with closed doors; some people are afraid of spiders; others are afraid of flying in a plane.

If we think too hard and too long about the world situation, we have every reason to be afraid. Since the terrorist act of September last year and the collapse of the World Trade Centre Towers, the world has been put on alert that this kind of thing could happen anywhere. Fear shrouds the planet. Security has been increased for fear that something like this might happen in our own backyard.
World leaders have been focussing on Iraq because they fear that Saddam Hussein has weapons that could cause havoc and death on a scale never before encountered unless he is stopped.
The Israelis and Palestinians live in constant fear of suicide bomb attacks, or random shootings that kill and maim.
The people in Zimbabwe and Malawi and neighbouring counties are afraid of what the future might bring because there is no food.
Every now and then, there is heightened fear that India and Pakistan will start using nuclear weapons.
Everywhere people are afraid. We are afraid to leave our houses unlocked. We are afraid to walk alone at night.
What the world needs is peace, and with peace comes the confidence that nothing will harm us.

Everything had been going so well for the Israelites. After God had preserved them from the angel death that passed over Egypt, they plundered the Egyptians taking their silver and gold. God had defeated the Egyptians and here they were marching out boldly en route to the Promised Land. But then they came to the Red Sea. Water in every direction. How would they get across? Has Moses made a mistake? And no sooner have they set up camp than they look up and there on the horizon is the dust storm kicked up by the Egyptian army. Here they are, caught between the Egyptian army on one side and the sea on the other, with no way out. No options. They were trapped.

Israel’s immediate response was fear. In terror they cried out, "Weren't there any graves in Egypt? Did you have to bring us out here in the desert to die? Look what you have done by bringing us out of Egypt! Didn't we tell you before we left that this would happen? We told you to leave us alone and let us go on being slaves of the Egyptians. It would be better to be slaves there than to die here in the desert." (Exodus 14:11-12).

This wouldn’t be the last time fear would cause them to distort the truth, to be ruled by doubt rather than faith. Fear had a numbing and paralysing effect – they forgot all that God had just done for them in freeing them from slavery. They forgot about God's continual presence - a thick cloud during the day and a flaming fire at night. All they felt was the fear of being slaughtered by the Egyptians.

Isn’t that what happens when we become afraid.
We know God.
We know his promise to always be our strength and support in times of trouble.
We know that God loves us and is committed to us – after all didn’t he send his Son to die for us.
We know that even though God never promises to eliminate all the problems in our lives, he will always look out for us and one day take us away from it all to our heavenly home.
But when fear comes along, suddenly all of that goes out the window. We are anxious, depressed, terrified, worried, panicky – you know what I mean.

The situation in the world at the moment gives us every reason to be afraid. Maybe there is something in your personal life at this moment that fills you with fear. Perhaps you might be afraid, like the Israelites, that God hasn’t noticed your predicament – that he has more important things to worry about than your situation.

While the people panicked, Moses stood like a rock. "Don't be afraid! Stand your ground, and you will see what the Lord will do to save you today; you will never see these Egyptians again." As we know, God blocked the Egyptian army from attacking during the night and the next morning parted the sea for them and they walked across to the other side to safety. The Lord can be trusted - he is in control – he is the one who is saving his people. Sometimes they had to fight to win a battle but not today. Today they need only keep still. You know, that’s the hardest thing for us to do. Our strength, our mind, our skills are of no particular use. We just have to sit back and wait patiently for God to act, keeping in mind that God is never far away.

The Israelites were nervous about their situation and likewise we are nervous about what is happening in the world. We don’t understand why God seems slow to act, but we do know that wars, terrorism, shooting, bombing and everything that causes us grief are the result of the sinfulness of humanity. Jesus said that these things will continue right up until they day he returns. Those who love God will suffer along with those who don’t.  He said, "You are going to hear the noise of battles close by and the news of battles far away; but do not be troubled. Such things must happen, but they do not mean that the end has come. Countries will fight each other; kingdoms will attack one another. There will be famines and earthquakes everywhere." (Matthew 24:6,7).

What can we do when fear grips our hearts?

Firstly, get to know what kind of God we have. He is gracious, loving and faithful. In spite of the whining of the Israelites, God still loved them and saved them from danger. We don’t deserve it but he loves us and will always stand by us. We see just how powerful his love for us when we look at the cross and see what Jesus has done for us.
Get to know God as the king and ruler of the universe. There is nothing so great or too difficult for him to handle. Parting the sea to save the Israelites, saving Daniel from the lions or Jonah from the belly of the big fish, springing Peter from jail, or saving Paul from a shipwreck were all a piece of cake for him. Helping us when we are afraid is just as easy.

Secondly, get to know God and his promises and trust that he will stick by what he says. Memorise and trust words like these -
The Lord is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one. The Lord protects me from all danger; I will never be afraid. (Psalm 27:1,2).
God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not be afraid… (Psalm 45:1,2).
Or Jesus words of authority and power, "Don't be afraid! I am the first and the last. I am the living one! I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I have authority over death and the world of the dead." (Revelation 1:17).
Be assured that God keeps his promises; that he is with us, even in the worst possible situation imaginable on this earth.

Thirdly, realise that there are too many times when our human attempts to be bold are not sufficient. There will be times when even the texts of promise that we have learnt off by heart will do little to ease our anxiety. We may even feel that God has deserted us. It’s then we need to the Holy Spirit to help us – to forgive us for our weakness of faith, to support us while we tremble in fear and to help us get through. He even takes our cries of fear to God and pleads to him on our behalf (Rom 8:26-27).

Fourthly, pray. Pray for peace in our world. Pray for world leaders as they make decisions that will have far reaching consequences. Pray for an end to the trouble that causes you to fear. Ask God to intervene in the rampage of sin across the world and bring peace. Pray for faith, for boldness and courage when you are afraid, and pray that in the end God would take us from the troubles of this world into the eternal world where there will be no more fear.

With God by our side, whether we realise he is there or not, what is there to be afraid of? When fear is near, God is even nearer.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
15th September
, 2002
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com 

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, revised Australian edition 1994.
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