18th Sunday OT B "First Steps" ~ Rev. Jim Schmitmeyer
You’ve heard the phrase: “Stepping out in faith.” It’s similar to another phrase
in a song we often sing in church: “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
Both phrases conjure up images of confidence, fortitude and conviction: a high school quarterback on the first game of the season; a bull rider grabbing the rope and giving the nod to open the gate; a swimmer at the edge of a high dive, lifting her arms, then springing from the board, falling and twirling through the air.
A person can’t help but admire the courage, the confidence of people who step up and don’t stop to look back.
But that’s not what we find in today’s first reading. Instead, we encounter a community of people—recently rescued from slavery—crying like frightened children in the desert: “We are out of food! There is no water! What is to become of us?” According to the text, all they could think about were “the fleshpots of Egypt.”
Knowing how the story ends, it’s easy to dismiss the urgency of the crisis and say, “Ah, buck up! Get tough! Look ahead, don’t look back!” After all, we know that God “has got their back.”
Of course, that’s easy for us to say when it’s them and not us getting ready to Play the game, ride the bull or leap off the high dive.
Normally, when we read stories about people stepping out in faith, we picture them with heads held high and confidence in their stride. Like young Francis of Assisi stripping off his fancy clothes turning his back on his father’s wealth; like St. Katharine Drexel who established schools and foundations to serve African-Americans in the South despite Jim Crow segregation and threats from the Ku Klux Klan.
When we hear these stories, we imagine these saints for the heroes they were yet, when our own hesitant response to God’s call “to step out in faith,” we can’t help but think of how disappointed must God be when we trip and fall and buckle at the knees. But this is where today’s reading from the book of Exodus can bolster our faith, so, let’s take another look at it.
When the people complain and grumble, does God punish them for their weak faith?
No. Rather, God sends down bread from the heavens to strengthen them in their weakness.
This happens every morning. Then, in the evening, birds drop from the sky providing more meat than the people can eat.
Like a parent coaxing a toddler with chubby legs and rounded feet to take a step—just one step. This is the attitude of God when he calls us “to step out in faith.” He knows that earning to walk is hard. And walking in faith is not easy.
So, is God disappointed in you when your steps are small and cautious? Or is God the Father whom Jesus says he is? A father with a goofy smile on his face and a smart phone in his hand, taking a picture of you taking that step, that first step.
You’re scared. But God is proud. Mighty proud. Proud as a parent can be.