Exodus 13:17-22 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.[a] The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. 19 And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” 20 They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. 21 The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.
The Israelites were marching into an unknown future. But they weren’t alone. God was with them.
As we graduate today, we too are marching into an unknown future. As we do, I want you to think about three things.
God knows the way.
God Shows the way.
God Holds the Day.
As I thought about your graduation this week, I couldn’t help but remember the moments when I graduated. First there was High School, then much later, College and my Master’s Program. What I remember at those moments was the feeling of freedom, much like the Israelites must have felt. I was no longer bound to studies and school, I was free.
I distinctly remember that feeling about 12 years ago when I went to the post office to drop off my very last paper in the mail. I walked out with a light heart. Graduation would be later, but that last task being over, my heart sang with joy. I did it!
There was a Hallmark store in the shopping center, and I stopped there as I walked home. There on the shelf was a delicate dancing figure that spoke to what I felt. It exuberated joy!. I couldn’t help but buy it.
As all of us know, those moments of feeling our freedom are fast and fleeting.
Over the next few days, all of you will discover that while there is life and freedom after school, the feeling of freedom is short lived. For some of you, there will be college and post graduate school.
For others, there is the new challenge of finding a job and taking on those responsibilities.
Some of you may know where you are headed, others are simply trying to figure it out.
The truth is, an ending of one thing is always a beginning of another. And we need guidance to walk this path!
The Israelites are leaving Egypt and beginning a new relationship with God. We read that God directed them the long way around so that they would be safe from the Philistines. We read that God appeared as a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night.
As we face the future, we need to keep this image in front of us. God is there, showing us the way.
And as the Israelites begin their journey, things are clear and their path is certain. God’s voice and direction surround them, keeping them from danger and leading them into a new world of freedom.
The Israelites don’t know where they are going, but they don’t have to. God knows the way.
Psalm 139 speaks it so well. Verse 16 tells us that: “In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.”
Scientists will tell you something important. Time did not exist before the universe was created. God created time, and God exists outside of time. That is a scary and confusing thought when you think about it.
But it is also a comforting thought, again when you think about it. There is nothing that will happen to us that God doesn’t already know. As we face this future after graduation, God already knows the path ahead of us.
My personal journey from High School to Pulpit Ministry was about 35 years, almost as long as the Israelites spent in the wildness.
But it wasn’t wasted time. During those years I touched the lives of many students and staff at the Community College where I worked. I had the awesome privilege of interacting with missionaries going out into the field and returning home. I had the joy of planning prayer focuses and events. God had a path for me, that might or might not have led where I am today.
God knew where my life was leading, and God knew the steps that it would take to bring me here. God knew the way.
But God didn’t just know the way, God showed the way.
I love this passage for the Israelites, because it shows that from their very first footsteps outside of Egypt, God was showing where they needed to go. All they had to do was follow.
We, too, have instructions on the way we should go. God left them behind in Scripture, they are there to guide us in how we should act.
I believe that God directs our paths at times by simply allowing one door to open and another to close. We choose colleges and jobs because it seems logical, but deep down, we need to understand, God is directing our path.
You may think that your choice of careers, colleges, or even your summer job is random or an accident. You may think that you simply made the logical decision. But I want to assure you it isn’t. the God who has been with you your entire life is still here, guiding all of your choices.
I think of my own choice of seminaries as an example. I had made my decision, I was going to Fuller Theological Seminary. It was conservative like I was conservative. I had even been accepted. But one day, a letter arrived in the mail from the San Francisco Theological Seminary (Southern California branch). The letter told me that they had prayed for me that day, and that they wanted to invite me to an orientation meeting.
I threw the letter away. I had made my decision, I didn’t need to hear from them. Besides, if I went to Fuller, I could stay in my house and my job and my life would not have to change. Fuller was safe. SFTS was scary.
I could throw the letter away, but I couldn’t throw away the words. We prayed for you. God kept touching my heart until I could no longer resist. I pulled the letter out of the trash and called them. Besides, the orientation was free, offered two classes, and lunch.
As I sat in the classes that day, and met with the other students over lunch, there was much that touched my heart.
I could no longer escape God’s call, a call that was finalized in my interviews with the directors of both schools. Fuller was safe. SFTS was where God was calling me.
God always shows the way.
But God doesn’t just show the way, God holds the day.
Since that day, God has continued to direct my path. Sometimes it is along a safe way, and sometimes God brings new and unexpected challenges.
Statistics for your generation can be very frightening.
Statistics show that those beginning college, 1/3 or more of you will not complete it within six years.
Statistics show that even if you graduate college, 44% of you are likely to end up working in jobs that don’t require a degree.
Statistics show that for those of you who get married, nearly half of your marriages will end in divorce.
But statistics aren’t God. And you can look at them in a different way! Fully 2/3 of you who start college this year will finish it. More than 60% of you will find jobs in your career field. And, for those who marry, at least half of you will be with your partner your entire life.
Whether we are afraid of the future or face it with courage depends on whether we truly believe that God holds each day of our future.
The Egyptians and we as graduates are free. But our journey is only beginning. We need to remember that
God knows the way
God shows the way
And God holds each day.
Let us go forward in confidence that the God who brought us this far in our lives will be with us in each day of our future.