Morning Worship Column: If You Don’t Have Much Faith in the Future, Look in the Rearview Mirror

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“The whole of Exodus gives you a picture of a people on the move in name and narrative,” said the Rev. Raphael Warnock at the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “Faith Through a Rearview Mirror,” and the Scripture reading was Exodus 33:12-23.

The book of Exodus is the story of the departure of the Israelites from Egypt to the land of Canaan.

“They are on the move from slavery to freedom. They are on the move from pain to promise and possibility,” he said. “They have escaped slavery but they have to go through the wilderness. You have to go through something in order to get to something. They were on the move.”

We want to know that God is moving with us, he said.

“We want to know that we are not left alone, not left on the doorstep of destiny,” Warnock said. “We want cosmic companionship, we have a friend in Jesus; if God is for us, who can be against us?”

He said Pastor Moses was at a turning point.

“Go back and read Chapter 33 and you will see he is concerned and frustrated,” Warnock said. “He reminds God that these are his people. Moses and God have an intimate relationship and Moses hears God’s word unmediated. So he asks God, ‘Will you go with me?’ ”

Warnock said Moses, in the “New Urban Translation,” tells God, “I am out here because you sent me but before we go another step, I need the assurance of your presence.”

“Moses said, ‘We are not going to go if you don’t carry on with us,’ ” Warnock said. “He told God, ‘In your presence is the fullness of joy; don’t take your presence and joy away.’ ”

“Moses had the courage and audacity to say, ‘Show me your glory,’ and God said, ‘Cool, fine, sure; I will make my goodness pass before you,’ ” Warnock said. “Has anybody here wanted to ask God, ‘What are you up to? What are you trying to do to me? I am not sure you are there at all.’ ”

Moses made a bold request to see God’s glory.

“It was an amazing, bold prayer that is powerful and poignant,” Warnock said.

God told Moses to stand on a rock and he would place Moses in a cleft and cover him with his hand. Then God would pass by and remove his hand when Moses could see his back, but not his face.

“Moses sees God but then again he does not. God is standing beside him and at the same time is passing by him. This God is a bad dude; he is the only person who can do that,” Warnock said. “That is what faith is about — by the time we figure out what God is doing, it is almost done. We don’t see the whole thing, so don’t be so certain that God is with us and not with them. ‘We see in a mirror dimly,’ said Paul.”

It is a miracle that we see at all.

“Can you trust God’s heart and not see his face?” Warnock said. “It is like driving down a dark, rural two-lane highway and there are bright lights coming at you. They are too bright and you ask, ‘Who is this fool?’ But then you look in the rearview mirror and see a familiar back of the head or license plate and say, ‘That’s who that is,’ only after they have passed by.”

We don’t know what God is up to on the dark, narrow roads of life.

“We see God’s taillights and we thought he was trying to kill us, but we realize he is my strength and refuge. We did not know that then, but we know it now,” Warnock said. “He is the strength of our life, of whom should we be afraid? If you don’t have much faith in the future, look in the rearview mirror. Things are closer than they appear. We see the trying obstacles we have already passed.”

Warnock shared a story about his friend the Rev. Darrell Griffin. When Griffin first started at his church in Brooklyn, a “mother of the church” would stand and turn her back when he got to the most powerful part of his sermon. She did that several times and then he asked to speak with her. He asked her why she was standing and turning her back. She replied, “You are only 29, Dr. Griffin. This is between me and God. I have walked with God a long time and I get stirred up when you preach. I am not ignoring you. I have been through the Depression and dark days and I look back and see what God has already brought me through.”

Warnock said movies have become expensive and that “[He’s] so cheap, [he] waits for the DVD to come out.” But there are good things about watching a movie at home with your own popcorn. Not only do you get the movie, but you get the edited scenes, scenes that made the first cut of the movie but not the final cut.

“God edits some scenes in our life,” he said. “We came through in spite of what happened.”

“Einstein said that coincidence is God’s way of staying anonymous,” Warnock said. “God hides us in a cleft and edits the scenes [of our life] and we see how life could have turned out differently. It could have been worse; there are things that should have killed you but God put you in God’s sweet spot, in the shadow of his wings. What could have stopped you did not.”

While driving by Camden Yards in Baltimore, “where the Orioles try to play,” Warnock looked in his rearview mirror and saw an SUV come around a corner just as a small dog started to run across the street. The car rolled over the dog but did not run it over. “I started to say the prayer of committal — you know, ashes to ashes, dust to dust — when I saw the dog shake itself off and keep running. If it had been a big dog, it would have been dead, but because it was a small dog, it rolled with the punches and was still alive.”

You have been through many dangers, toils and snares, he said, “but grace has brought you through and grace will lead you on. God says, ‘I will pass by you and stand by you at the same time for I am your God.’ Praise be his name.”

The Rev. George Wirth presided. Evelin Dobsa, a scholarship student with the International Order of King’s Daughters and Sons, read the Scripture in Hungarian and English. Dobsa is a student of English language and literature at the Ferenc Rakoczi II Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute. Flutist Barbara Hois and pianist Joseph Musser presented “Sonata for Flute and Keyboard” by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier for the prelude. The Motet Choir sang “Do Not Be Afraid” by John Helgen with flute accompaniment by Barbara Hois. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the choir. The Samuel M. and Mary E. Hazlett Memorial Fund supports this week’s services.


The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.