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The God Who Leads
October 27, 1974

St. Paul's United Methodist Church


Our window this morning, which is the second one beyond the first pillar, has these words printed on it, “The Lord made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.” Moses is pictured with a crowd of people behind him walking down a narrow corridor, walled on both sides with high waves. This window pictures the dramatic event of the Exodus which is the central act of the Old Testament, the pivotal event of the Old Testament. I wish there was time to tell the dramatic story of this event, but there's so much meaning in it that I don't want to take too much time telling the story. I’ll just give you the skeleton outline.

The Old Testament lesson this morning is a very ancient creed, a creed which the Hebrew people repeated, as we repeat the Apostles’ Creed in our service, to remind themselves who they were. The creed began, “A wandering Aramean was my father,” referring to their nomadic ancestors, referring to Jacob who went down to Egypt, moving with his family when Joseph invited him to come during the famine. They stayed in Egypt where they became a large community. About 400 years after the time of Joseph and Jacob, the Hebrew people had become enslaved. They were forced to work on the building of pyramids. The Lord heard the cry of the slaves and the Lord sent Moses to deliver them. After a series of plagues on Egypt, Moses received permission to leave with his people. When the pharaoh changed his mind and sent the soldiers in pursuit; at the sea of reeds, the waters were divided, and the people marched across.

In a very real sense, the Bible begins with the Exodus. All previous history, all the way back to Abraham and back to creation was seen as leading up to this event. And all subsequent history, the remainder of the Old Testament, is always seen against the backdrop of this event, the Exodus. The escape from Egypt signaled the beginnings of themselves as a people, as a nation. Also, this event was the basic source of their knowledge of God, of his nature, of his purpose, of what he is trying to do in the world. When they were asked, “Which god do you worship?” When their Canaanite neighbors in later years asked them which God do you worship? Out of all the gods there are, out of all the nations with their peculiar gods, which god do you worship? When the Hebrew children asked which God do we worship, came back the answer—the God who led us out of Egypt. God was identified in the Old Testament as the God who led them out of Egypt. God was differentiated from all other objects of worship as the one who led them out of Egypt.

Centuries later when the prophets tried so desperately to hold the nation together, when they tried to prevent national disaster and destruction, the prophets tried to call the people back to the God who led us out of Egypt. They reminded them of the God who led them out of Egypt.

The tremendous meaning of this event has not yet been quite realized by the church. The church today has not really grasped the full impact and the meaning of what it means that God led his people out of Egypt. For the life, the teachings, the death, the resurrection of Jesus, the calling of the church, the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church, all must be seen and interpreted against the backdrop of the Exodus from Egypt. If we are really to receive the power to be God's people, and an understanding of what it means to follow the God who leads us, we must have this event in our memories, the God who led them out of Egypt. Now, what did it mean? What is the meaning? Let me just pick out one meaning this morning of what it meant to those early Hebrew people, of what it meant to the Old Testament and what it meant to the New Testament.

The fact that God led his people out of slavery in Egypt means that God works primarily in history, in the life and acts of nations, communities and people. God works primarily in situations. Based on my reading and my understanding, this is unique. This is the unique discovery of the Bible. As far as I know, no other religion before the Bible, or during the Bible days, or since the Bible, no other religion has seen God working primarily in history.

Not nature. The other religions of the Bible days were mostly nature religions. They saw God working primarily through nature. The rhythmic cycle of the seasons were reflected in their worship, but not the Bible. Of course, God works through nature. But primarily, first and foremost, God works in history.

Not mysticism. Many religions see God working primarily in the inner soul of people, in their Spirit, in their inner religious life—in an individual, subjective spiritual experience. Many branches of Christianity practice spiritual experience, and claim that God works primarily in an inner spiritual experience within us. Some even go so far to say, if you do not have a spiritual experience like mine, then your God isn't quite the correct one. Of course, we believe that we can experience an awareness of God in prayer, in meditation, in a spiritual experience.

But the unique discovery of the Hebrew people is that God works primarily in history, in the acts of life, and not in a spiritual experience. To make religion too subjective leaves a lot of room for error. When you base your religion on feelings, when you base your religion on an inner personal experience, you leave a lot of room for error. It's very easy to worship yourself. It's very easy to worship your own desires and feelings like ecstasy, joy, peace and love. These are all very elusive. These are really byproducts of the Christian life and not the substance. They are byproducts. To trust in these expressions, to trust in a personal religious feeling as a validation of the presence of God is to leave a lot of room for error and confusion. The witness of the Bible, which we have not really realized, is that God works primarily in history. The Israelites saw him working not so much in them, but in their situation. To this day, Jews celebrate the Passover. The Jew sees his vocation and his destiny in terms of the Exodus. The believing Jew sees himself participating as one of those who was led out of Egypt, who was rescued from slavery. The Hebrew of the Bible trusted not in his own inner religious experiences, but in God's working in every event for good. His faith was placed in a God who works in history, who works for good.

The tremendous impact of that message became the battle cry of the Old Testament, as they remembered the God who led us out of Egypt. And that impact needs to be felt in the church today. God works primarily, not exclusively, but primarily in history, in the lives of nations, in people in communities, and what is he doing? What is God doing? What's the purpose of his work? The answer is found in the Exodus, the escape from Egypt. God’s purpose was to relieve oppression. He heard the cry of the people. The Old Testament creed states that God heard their cry, and the Old Testament resounds with the glorious good news, that God heard their cry. God rescued them. God sent Moses to deliver them, to realize justice, to relieve oppression, to heal suffering. The arena of God's primary activity is wherever there is injustice, wherever there is oppression, and wherever people are hurting is where God is primarily at work.

The objective, the primary objective of God, therefore, is not to get you saved so you can go to heaven when you die. That is a distortion of the gospel. God's message to the slaves in Egypt was not, “Trust in Me and I will save your soul and someday you'll get freedom in heaven.” His message was not, “Endure your present situation and I'll give you peace and joy. I'll make you feel good. And when you die, I'll take you to heaven.” That was not the message. The message was not wait till Jesus comes. We hear it said that when Jesus comes again, then he'll overthrow the Pharaoh, then he'll rescue the slaves. That's not the gospel. The message to the slaves in Egypt, the message to Egypt was, “Pharaoh, let my people go.” Right now, right on this earth, let them go. The central message of Jesus Christ when He walked on this earth was the kingdom of God is at hand, is here right now in this life.

God is at work. Right now relieving oppression, bringing justice, healing the suffering and the God who leads calls. He called Moses, he called the prophets, he calls the church, and he calls you to come and help, to witness to him, to obey, to work. In my younger years, I heard many sermons saying that God calls missionaries to take Christ to the far corners of the earth. We don't take Christ anywhere. That's presumptuous and arrogant. We don't take Christ anywhere. He's already there. He's far ahead of us. He's already there. He's already working in the far corners of the earth. He's already working wherever missionaries are needed. He's already working where people are hungry, where they're starving, where they're oppressed, where they're discriminated against. He's already working. And God calls missionaries, ministers and God calls you to witness to the fact, to tell that he is at work saving and healing. God calls you and God saves you, not just to get you into heaven, not just to give you peace, security, joy and comfort. God calls you first of all to witness to the fact that he's at work and to follow and to obey. For a Christian to follow God's leading today, probably will take him right into politics, right into the social issues of this day, right into the community problems of Manteca. I believe God's at work and he calls you to come and help. He opens the way for you to obey and to witness. A good Christian is not necessarily one who's in the church every time the doors are open with a sweet smile on his face. A good Christian is out in the world, who comes to church to get refreshed, invigorated, a new idea, motivated and receive the love and fellowship of each other so he can go back into that world. A good Christian, rather than a sweet smile on his face, has the mud of politics on his face, the dirt and smear of ugliness as he works. He probably endures ridicule and anger of those who oppress and exploit, as he tries to change things, as he tries to make life better, as he tries to help the poor and those discriminated against. His life is not easy. It's not all peace, joy and glamour. For God calls us to be a disciple to hurt and to heal.

Where is God leading you? And how do you know where he's leading you? How do you test? How do you know what is the will of God for you? The Exodus tells us that the God who led them out of Egypt will lead you to where there is suffering, will lead you to where people are hurting, will lead you to where you can witness to God's kingdom and bring it to pass. I think no one has ever said this better than the prophet Micah 6:2-8, “Hear, you mountains the controversy of the Lord. For the Lord has a controversy with his people.” I think “his people” includes the church. And the Lord says, “I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage. And I sent before you Moses, Aaron and Miriam.” Why? “That you may know the saving acts of the Lord… And with what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high? Do I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the pride of my body for the sin of my soul? No. None of those things. He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God wherever he leads you

© 1974 Douglas I. Norris