Exodus 14:10-14, 21-29
A few weeks ago I mentioned that I have been donating platelets for a few years now. I told the story of my 17th donation, when things didn’t go as planned. There was a minor problem which resulted in a large bruise on my arm. At the time of the donation, I became very stressed and I ended up passing out.
Earlier that morning, I had kind of a bad feeling. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to donate that day, something just felt a little bit off. Later that afternoon, as I lay with a cold towel on my forehead, afraid to get in my car and drive home, I kept thinking “why did I do this? I knew something was going to go wrong!”
The Israelites were scared. Moses had led them out of Egypt, away from slavery but things just kept getting worse. Now the Egyptian army was after them and they were trapped. “Why did you do this to us?” They shout to Moses. “We knew something was going to go wrong!” Even though living in slavery wasn’t a perfect and certainly wasn’t the life that God intended for them, they just wanted to go back to the way things had always been. It may not have been perfect but at least they knew what to expect.
Following the complications of my 17th platelet donation, I was afraid to donate again. Even though I had been donating for almost three years with no problems, my fear that something might go wrong had become my new normal. Not donating became “what I had always done.”
But I already had another appointment scheduled. When the day came, I was scared to go. If I stayed home, I knew that there would be no problems. I wouldn’t have to worry about bruises or passing out. If I stayed where I was, stayed where everything was familiar, I believed that everything would be all right.
I shared my concerns with my wife and told her that I was going to cancel the appointment. Fortunately, she didn’t let me get away with getting stuck in the past. Rachel reminded me that if I cancelled it would affect other people: the staff at the collection center would have a last minute cancellation to deal with and, of course, there were patients who needed the platelets. I really wanted to stay home, sticking with the familiar pattern of not donating. Reluctantly, I returned to the donation center in time for my appointment.
This time, everything worked out fine. There were no complications, there was no pain, there was no passing out. Since Rachel had convinced me to break the pattern and get out of my comfort zone, everything worked out in the end.
We are creatures of habit. It’s very difficult to break the patterns of our lives, no matter how imperfect they may be. The uncertainty of trying something new often overshadows the comfort of repeating patterns.
However, in order to become the person that God knows we can be, we need to continue growing. In order to improve our world, we need to continually examine what needs to change. We can’t bring about the kingdom of God by doing things the way we’ve always done them.
A few weeks ago, President Obama announced that the U.S. military would begin airstrikes in Syria and Iraq in order to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the terrorist group known as ISIS.
In March of 2003, President George W. Bush announced that American forces, with help from coalition partners, were “in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq.”
In December 1998, President Bill Clinton announced a mission, along with British forces, to “strike military and security targets in Iraq.”
In January 1991 President George H. W. Bush announced that “air attacks [were] already underway against military targets in Iraq.”
Every U.S. President for the past 25 years has announced to the American people that we were bombing Iraq.
The Exodus story reminds us that humans have always feared each other. It also reminds us that we’ve always believed that if our enemies were destroyed, our lives would be better.
The Exodus story paints a pretty strait forward picture. There is no reason to sympathize with Pharaoh’s army; they are faceless, nameless, slave drivers, hunting down a defenseless people. It’s easy to cheer when they are destroyed.
There’s no reason to sympathize with the terrorist group called ISIS. They are faceless, nameless, savages, killing defenseless journalists and other innocent people. We want to hear that they’ve been destroyed so that we can cheer just as loudly.
Just as we cheered in 2003 when George W. Bush declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq, just as we cheered when we believed the “bad guys” were destroyed in 1998 and in 1991, each time believing that they our enemies had been flooded in a sea of U.S. military might.
They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. And here we are again. Once again faced with a threat, our only option seems to be war.
Terrorism is a real threat that needs to be dealt with. But after falling into the same pattern over and over again, maybe there’s another way. Instead of praying that our god will destroy our enemies, maybe it’s time to pray for us to find a way to peace without continued violence. Maybe using the most powerful military on the planet isn’t the way to solve every problem.
It’s time for us to change our ways. Time for us to stop doing it “the way we’ve always done it.” It’s a difficult change to make. The Israelites struggled with the uncertainty of a future outside of Egypt, even though the alternative was slavery. We struggle to consider dealing with terrorism in any other way because we’re afraid of what might happen.
Instead of living in fear, we have to start living with hope. Hope that it can get better. Hope that God has given us the gifts we need to create a better world. Hope that, through living a life of peace and reconciliation, we can be an example to others.
It can begin with us as individuals, changing in small but powerful ways. What patterns have we lived with that need to be broken? Maybe we don’t speak to anyone about our faith or our doubts because we’re worried about how they’ll respond. Maybe we’ve haven’t visited a sick or grieving neighbor because we’re worried about what to say. Maybe we haven’t reached out to a former friend or a family member that we’ve had an argument with because we’re not sure how to forgive or to ask for forgiveness.
The Israelites wanted to retreat into the past because they were afraid of the future. I was afraid that there would be complications with the next platelet donation because of what happened with the last. The U.S. is afraid that we can only meet violence with violence.
If we have faith that God is with us, if we have hope that violence and destruction are not the only options, if we have the strength to follow in Christ’s way of peace, if we have the courage to break our patterns of fear, maybe we can create new patterns of hope.
Let us pray: O God, please lead us out of the desert of fear. Help us to hear the words of your prophets that call for a new way, a way of hope and peace. Give us the strength to seek out a new future and to break old patterns that don’t serve your will. In the midst of worried and concerned voices, help us to hear the guiding voice of Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.