rivers, story, and the courage to go where love leads us

my church has been going through a year long process of becoming an affirming church – a church that intentionally makes room for everyone, regardless of sexuality or gender expression, mental health, age, race, culture, income, status, or anything else. this is what I said to them on the morning we had our vote to become that kind of church.

Moses stood on the banks of the Jordan River and looked out over the Israelites who were about to cross the river into the land of wide open spaces God had promised to them and led them to. Their exodus was now over – an exodus which had seen deserts wandered, bread falling from the sky, armies avoided, divisions mended, and seas crossed; an exodus which had displayed, again and again and again God’s faithfulness and love. Yet, despite the miraculous and memorable journey, Moses stood before all of God’s people and said:
“Take care that you do not forget who you are, where you come from, and why you’re here.”

//

god be with you

“Take care that you do not forget who you are, where you come from, and why you’re here.”

Thats what Moses said to the people at the end of the Exodus.

Some of us may know that story of the Exodus.

It’s that ancient story that starts out with some people being forced into a life of slavery by an empire,
and how,
because they had their humanity stripped away,
because their very existence was reduced to making bricks
their lives and worlds became so full of darkness and despair,
that they looked up to the heavens and cried out:
“Is this what life is supposed to be like?!
Is this how it was meant to be?!”

And the story tells how this God heard them,
but not just any god,
this God who made the Heavens and the Earth,
this God who spun it all into motion and who was holding it all together,
this God whose heart broke at the sight of their oppression and captivity.
And this God answered their cries saying:
“No. This is not how its meant to be. Life is not meant to be like this.
Come with me and I’ll show you a different kind of life and world.”

So God led these people into what we call the Exodus –
this liberation from slavery into freedom,
this journey out of that life and world and towards a new one,
one that was bigger and more spacious,
one where they could be free to be themselves and live with others in peace.

And it’s there,
after 40 years of searching and movement,
that they get to that promised land and they stand on the banks of a river looking across at it,
and out of all the things their leader, Moses, could say to them,
he says this:
“Take care that you do not forget who you are, where you come from, and why you’re here.”

//

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I first heard this story, that seemed like a strange thing to say.

I mean, they spent 40 years looking for this place; he could have gone with “Finnnnnnnnally! Let’s go, everyone!”
Or he could have reflected on all the crazy things that happened and how the journey was now worth it.
Or he could have looked at everyone who had grumbled and complained and said “See?! I told you we’d make it!”

But he doesn’t tell them those things.

Instead, he tells them to remember.

And remember what exactly?

He wanted them to remember their story.

He wanted them to remember that the answers to their huge questions of identity, purpose, and place,
those questions that shape how we live and understand the world,
they aren’t found in religious dogmas and doctrines or membership cards,
but they are found in the story they’re part of:

This story of what God is doing in the world,
this story of a Liberating God who is leading everyone and everything out of a life and world that was never meant to be and into a life and world as it was always meant to be:
a life and world of justice and peace,
a life and world of connection and community,
a life and world where everyone had enough and everyone had a place.

Moses wanted them to remember that story because it would be that story that would help them cross that river and be the kinds of people and have the kind of world God wants them to be and have.

//

So now we’re all asking ‘why this story, today? Why this story on the day we vote on becoming an affirming church?”

Ive been thinking about what needs to be said today for a long time.
There have probably been six different iterations and versions.

And I had one all prepared for you but then I went grocery shopping.

I don’t know if it was how the crowds in the aisles parted as I walked through,
or if it was because of some can of lentils I saw,
but as I was shopping, this story of the Exodus kept coming into my head.

I realized I realized that out of all the things that needs to be said today,
out of all the things we need to hear before we have this vote,
they’ve already been said.
Moses said them.

“Take care that you do not forget who you are, where you come from, and why you’re here.”

//

We need to hear those words because in many ways, that story is our story.

We are all people who,
in some way, shape, or form,
have found in Jesus something reverent, something beautiful, and something true,
something that can only be of God;

and we’ve heard in him God’s call to become people of extravagant and indiscriminate love,
people who see the dignity, worth, and value of all people and all things,
people who strive to build places and a world where everyone can belong just as they are.

And so knowing that is where that Spirit is leading us,
we’ve set out on our own exodus.

We’ve left what was safe, comfortable and familiar;
we’ve listened the cries and laments of friends who’ve been hurt and oppressed because of who they are and what they carry;
we’ve asked some tough questions and rumbled with new ideas;
we’ve mourned loss and we’ve celebrated movement;
we’ve been challenged and we’ve been inspired;

and now,
a year later,
here we are,
everyone who calls RDLUC ‘home’
everyone who finds in this community a connection with God, each other, and with themselves,
and we’re all standing on the banks of a river,
looking ahead to this new place God has called us into,
and we’re asking if we’re ready to boldly step into that call and invitation to be new kinds of people living in a new kind of way,
a way where God’s extravagant and indiscriminate love shapes everything we do and everything we are.

So as we gather at the river to do that,
I’ll leave you with this and then I need to leave it up to you because this is your call to answer:

“My friends, take care that you do not forget who you are, where you come from, and why you’re here.”

May we remember the story we are a part of,
that we get to be a part of what God is doing in this world,
that we get help everyone and everything hear and experience the good news that they are loved and accepted just as they are.

So as we cross this river to do and be that,
lets remember we do this not just for those looking for a place to belong,
and not just for those of us who fear they can’t be themselves here,
but we do it for us because this is where our faith takes us,
this is what it means to be fans and followers of Jesus.

And lets do this together.

If what lies ahead is scary and new, thats ok. Cross with us.
If you still have questions, bring them with you. Cross with us.
If you can’t wait to get there, amazing! Cross with us.

This is not a decision and vote of conviction so much as it is a decision and vote of courage.
You don’t need to have your minds fully made up, you just need to be brave enough to say ‘yes.’

So,
my friends,
at the end of this journey and at the beginning of a new one,
may we find that courage together and remember that this is where God has led us and this this is where love goes.
May we be the church and may we keep the story going.

amen.

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