31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
September 26, 2021
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Once upon a time….our ears perk up when we hear these words because we know we are about to hear a story. And humans were designed for stories.
Dr. Stuart Brown writes, “Storytelling has been identified as the unit of human understanding.” Stories are how our brains develop; Stories are how our brains put unrelated pieces of information together so that we can understand them; stories are how we connect with others and the world; and stories are the way we tell and hear the truth. (Play, Dr. Stuart Brown, pg 91)
Stories are the way we tell and hear the truth. Author Neil Gaiman wrote, “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” (Coraline, Neil Gaiman, ix)
The Bible, the greatest collection of stories we have, is true – not because it answers “scientific, twenty-first century questions about the beginning of the universe or the biological evolution of human beings.” (Inspired, Held Evans, 9) The Bible is true, not because it is factual or because it is a historical record corroborated by archeological evidence.
The Bible is true because it reminds us, especially in times of crisis, that “God is with us and God is for us” (Inspired, Held Evans, 19) As Rachel Held Evans writes in her book Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, the stories of the Bible “remind us we belong to a very large and very old family that has been walking with God from the beginning. Even when we falter and fall, this God is in it for the long haul. We will not be abandoned.” (Inspired, Held Evans, 21)
Stories are the way we tell and hear the truth. Stories are the way we make sense of our world. And stories are how we remember, even when we are walking in darkness and despair, that “God is with us and God is for us” (Inspired, Held Evans, 19).
So let me tell you a story……
Once upon a time, there were a people, a people living in slavery, a people groaning under the weight of their oppressors, a people who remembered that once upon a time, they had been free people, living on their own land, a land of milk and honey, a land promised to them by the God of their mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers.
Once upon a time, there were a people, a people living in slavery, and they cried out to this God of their mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. They cried out for mercy; they cried out for freedom; they cried out for help. And God heard them.
God heard them. God was with them; God was for them, and God set into motion their liberation by calling a leader to guide them, a leader God had been nurturing since his birth. God appeared to Moses through a burning bush because God knew that a little bit of drama was the best way to get a human’s attention.
And once God had Moses’ full attention, God declared, “I am the God of your mother and father, grandmothers and grandfathers. I have heard the cry of my people, and I have come to free them from their oppression – and I plan to use you!”
I wish I could say Moses instantly said yes, however Moses was afraid. ‘Who am I to be a leader? Who am I to confront Pharaoh? Who am I to free these people?’ Fear likes to ask a lot of questions. Fear likes to talk and not do.
God’s response was firm and simple. ‘I will be with you.”
And Moses went. It wasn’t easy, but at every twist and turn in the road, through every hardship and challenge, God was there. God was with Moses and the people; God was for Moses and the people – quite literally leading them with a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night.
God lead them out of slavery; God lead them for forty years in the wilderness. When they became afraid and wanted to go back and be slaves again, God was patiently with them. When they thought it would be a good idea to make a cow out of all of their jewelry and worship it, God took a super big breath and kept with them. When they were stubborn and ungrateful for all that God had done for them, God was still with them, loving them, always loving them.
And after this long period of journeying, this journey of letting go of their identity as slaves and adjusting to this new identity as a community of God’s people, after journeying into and through the unknown, after working through their fears over and over again and learning to trust that God was with them, God was for them, finally, finally, they came to the mountain over looking this beautiful land of milk and honey, this land that had promised to them by the God of their mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers.
They stood for a moment on this mountain overlooking the promised land, and they must have breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, finally, the hard times were behind them. Finally, they would be able to live in peace and harmony, not worrying about how they would live or survive. Finally, they had arrived in the promised land, and with Moses, their trusted leader to guide them, all would be perfect.
Except they already knew from those who had scouted ahead, that all would not be perfect in this promised land of milk and honey. All would not be peaceful and harmonious because there were already people living in their promised land.
But no cause to worry, because Moses would be with them. Moses would take care of it all.
Except Moses had a different plan, “I am old”, he told them. “I’m old and I’m tired and I am no longer able to get around very well, let alone lead you. And God told me long ago, that I would not be the one to lead you into this promised land. This is the end of the journey for me.”
And that’s when the whispers began. ‘What is he talking about?’ ‘Moses cannot really be serious, can he?’ ‘How are we supposed to move forward into the new without him?’
At first, the whispers were quiet, and Moses kept right on talking. “The Lord your God himself will cross over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua also will cross over before you, as the Lord promised.” (Deuteronomy 31:3)
Moses went on to tell them how they should not be afraid because God would help them destroy and annihilate all of the people already living in the land. Remember, this is just a story. Further reading of the Bible as well as historical evidence shows us that despite the big talk about wiping out all of the people, utterly destroying them, etc, that that did not happen. Turns out that ancient people liked exaggeration and hyperbole as much as modern people.
So is this story not true?
Even though the story might not be factual, the story is absolutely true. As the community of Israel, as the people of God, stood on this mountain overlooking this land of milk and honey, this land promised by God to their mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, and now to them. As they stood on this mountain after having endured challenges and hardships for years and years and years in the wilderness, as they anticipated once again journeying into the unknown, they heard the truth once more: Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
Be strong and bold. Do not be afraid. As you face that next challenge, as you journey into the unknown, as you move forward, be strong; be bold, because I, the Lord your God, am with you. I am with you, and I am for you.