|I'm On My Way|
"I’m On My Way"
Rev. Greg Ward
Unitarian Universalist Metro Atlanta North
Water Communion Service
August 15th, 2004
Purpose of the story:
To convey a sense of what it is like to be part of change. To move out of the familiarity and comfort of what has been into the liberation and excitement of reaching for your ideals – even though it requires great risk and some loss.
CALL TO WORSHIP – Service Leader
3300 years ago, 1300 years BCE, a man named Moses led the Israelite people out of slavery in Egypt to freedom. This is what is known as the Exodus in the Jewish Scriptures. The Exodus was not an easy journey. It was hard enough to convince the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. But it was, likely, just as hard to convince the Israelites themselves that something better than the slavery they had known awaited them in the long, forbidding desert.
Most of us are familiar with Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. Crossing the Red Sea marked the end of the Israelite’s time in Egypt and the beginning of their search for the promised land.
Today, we tell the story of one family, torn by their feelings, who make the journey.
Come, let us worship together.
PRELUDE "Peace Like a River"(Piano only)
STORY OPENING (Josiah’s Story)
It was easier when our path was blocked. Even after traveling all that way through the desert, when we came to where the water wouldn’t let us continue, it was almost a relief. I felt bad for the wasted effort. …That Miriam and the children had to make the journey for nothing. … That all our people had to come so far, only to be turned back. But, truthfully, I felt relief as much as anything else.
At least when the water blocked our way there was no question. We knew we had to turn back. There was no remorse. No regret. No indecision. We could have returned home knowing we tried.
But then the storm began. And the water stirred. And a path appeared leading into the sea. The red sea had somehow parted. And we had to decide – anew – whether to go forward into the unknown future, or turn back to the familiarity of the past. We started out willing to make the journey because no one could argue with Moses. No one wanted to be slaves. Working our whole lives, giving Pharaoh our sweat – our dreams, our soul - and having nothing to show for ourselves. We lived lives with no decisions. No power. No voice. No hope.
It would have been fine for me to stop. I have grown to accept my fate as a slave.
But it was for my wife that I decided to go. And for my children. And for my people. Their future – that is why I decided to go. I knew that, as slaves, we would never get a chance to be creative, to be brilliant, to have dreams of our own and the chance to see them come true. To be free. Even if that freedom came with a cost.
But no one will ever know how hard it was to leave it all behind. To say goodbye, even to the hardships and the trials. At least they were familiar hardships and trials. They were mine. To look back at my brother-in-law, Andujar, who would not leave – convinced we were fools chasing something we’d never find – it was nearly unbearable. It felt like I was turning my back on my past. No one will know the pain of leaving behind the homes we had built. What it felt like to turn my back on the fields which held the bones of our ancestors and the streets where our children played.
It would have been easy to turn back. But ahead – through these waters - that’s where freedom lay. To get there I have to give up all I ever knew. But, it is better to live free with nothing, then live as a slave amidst everything.
*OPENING HYMN "I’m On My Way"
CHALICE LIGHTING – We light this chalice that we may have the courage to see beyond the familiar. For if we are but slaves to the powers that be, it is better to bear the pain that sets us free.
WELCOME AND ANNOUNCEMENTS
*HAND OF FRIENDSHIP
STORY PART II (Miriam’s Story)
Andujar begged me not to go. And I almost listened. He said that we would only wander around in the desert until something forced us to turn back. So, when we came to the edge of the water, I thought he was right.
He said that Moses was a dreamer. That Moses had not really been talking to God after all. That if he adjusted the tin-foil on his antenna, he would have gotten better reception and discovered it was not the voice of God that had been telling him to leave Egypt. It was the voice of futility. Of empty dreams and broken promises.
I always admired and respected my brother, Andujar. He had a deep love for his family and for our ways as a people. He was loyal and dependable. He liked the way things had always been done. It would have been very easy to listen to him. To follow his advice and stay in Egypt.
And I would have done that, stayed with him. Ignored the call to freedom that Moses was issuing. But it was the excitement in his message that forced me to listen. The gleam of hope in his eye. The optimism of possibility in his voice. The way his whole life was connected to a sense of promise and purpose.
When I looked to Andujar I saw none of that. The expression on his face was stern and solemn. Whatever hope he once had was stolen from him during his slavery. His eyes were never cast out to the horizon. He never believed anything was possible beyond what was right in front of him. He had the look of one who had already given up.
And I looked at my children and noticed that they, too, had this same look. ‘It ought to be different for them,’ I thought. I wanted them to have eyes that sparkled with possibility. Faces that shone with hope. And I knew it would never happen without freedom. Real freedom, like our people had not known for generations.
So when the water parted and Moses – with a face filled with determination and promise – motioned us forward, I knew we had to go. We had to take a chance and see what was beyond this place – what our lives could be.
*HYMN "There Is More Love Somewhere"
JOYS AND CONCERNS
STORY PART III (Miranda’s Story)
I didn’t expect it – the feeling of relief. When we got to the water and we noticed we couldn’t go any further I would have figured I’d be bummed out. I was never one of those who had the melancholy or sentimental feelings of home. But there I was. Standing at what seemed to be the edge of my dreams – knowing we wouldn’t be able to go on. And I was relieved. Go figure.
I was so excited when we started out that we were actually leaving that the faces of the others didn’t really register with me. The mood and expression on all the older faces seemed to be pained. The weight of grief was everywhere. A sadness. As though something irreplaceable was being left behind. I did not want to pay attention.
I had tried to ignore the sounds of crying, or the heavy sighs of many of the men in the village. Unable to take much with us, most people only had the clothes on their back and maybe the few tokens stuffed into carry sack. By the time we arrived at the water, it was impossible not to feel the weight of sadness.
I remember trying hard not to care. I was so ready to shake the dust off that crummy place and get on with it. My future was all too clear. One day my father would come home and tell me who I was going to marry. And I would end up like my mother, living in a hopelessly small shack in a hopelessly small life getting used to hopelessly small dreams. My husband would be a slave. And I would raise my children to be slaves. I wanted something more.
But then, standing at the edge of the water, I did realize something I hadn’t before. The only reason I was there… the only reason I was alive, was because of the sacrifices of the people around me. The ones who came before me. The efforts of so many who were buried back in that place we accepted as our home. Regardless of how crummy it all was, we carried a debt in our bones. And we just left the place that had been the only sense of life and family we had known.
I thought about that for a moment, as the sea begin to churn and part before us. I thought about it as the path appeared and Moses called us forward. I thought about the loyalty I owed to what was behind us and the trouble that lay ahead. And I could almost turn back and acknowledge the debt I had to those who came before me. But I didn’t. I knew that I must pay that debt with something more than feeling sad. I must try to end the sadness – for me and for the people before me. I knew I must have the courage to move forward, despite the trouble. To do anything less would be to forsake all the sacrifice made for us. I knew it was time to move into the water.
*HYMN "Wade in the Water"
OFFERTORY RESPONSE "We sing now together in joyful thanksgiving acclaiming creation whose bounty we share; both sorrow and gladness we find now in our living, we sing a hymn of praise to the life that we bear."
STORY PART IV (Moses’ Story)
When the sea cleared and a path appeared leading through the water, I felt the hesitancy of every man, woman and child who were there. For people whose lives had been the same for generations, they had already experienced so much change. I knew that to take that first step into this new place would be to cast off everything they had known for something they could barely imagine.
I saw families split over this. One man begged his sister and her family to stay. And cried when they left. I knew the turmoil they were feeling. The anxiety of the choice before them. They wanted to be free. But they weren’t sure of the price.
What many of these people didn’t know is that I had stood at a very similar space years ago. For the first forty years of my life I grew up as a prince of Egypt, living in the palace. I didn’t need to step out and take risks like these people. Others used to run ahead of the chariot I rode in, clearing the way saying, "Moses is coming! Moses is coming!"
But I did not feel free. Knowing that, all around me, people were enslaved, living in hardship, forced me to cover my eyes and ears so I could not see or hear their suffering. It forced me to put up walls around my heart so I would not feel their pain. I was just as much a slave as they were. Only I lived in a different cage.
I began my journey out of slavery when I left the palace and became a shepherd, the lowliest of professions – better only than a tax collector. I remember how hard that decision was. I knew it was just as hard for the people of the Exodus.
For me freedom came only when I gave up being served and learned the peace that came in serving others. Connecting with their lives and their needs. It was hard trading in my privilege for peace of mind. But I discovered that not only did I find peace, but that it came with a real ability to know love. And joy.
It began for me when I made the choice to move out of comfort and privilege and into community. I know for most it begins differently. Moving not out of comfort, but out of fear and isolation. Moving from despair and hopelessness. Moving from a place where we dare not dream life as different, to a place where we accept the risks to make it so. That is where real community is found. And the only peace we are ever likely to know.
*HYMN "I’ve Got Peace Like a River"
If we are every likely to know peace, we must know freedom. We must choose to be free from doubt. Free from despair. Free from hopelessness. We must be able to ‘choose’ this freedom over the bondage that fear brings.
As Unitarian Universalists we are known as ‘heretics.’ The word, ‘heretic’ comes from the Latin and means, ‘one who chooses.’
But we do not just make a choice of who and how we are going to be without also choosing what we are going to do to get there. Freedom never comes without the willingness to pay a price for it. The willingness to sacrifice. To give.
In this Congregation’s quest toward liberation from tyranny, from bondage, from fear, we ask ourselves, what are we willing to do. In this community’s quest toward our ideals, what, of ourselves, are we willing to give.
We ask you, in our water communion ceremony, to come forward with your water and tell us what, of yourself, you are willing to pour into the well of this community so that you, and this community, become liberated from fear. So that we become a liberal religious community of our ideals.
EPILOGUE (Andujar’s Story)
My name is Andujar, and I was one of the few Israelites who stayed behind during the Exodus. Moses led the people away and I felt sure that if I were to go, it would be betraying the heritage and the loyalty of what we had created during this time in Egypt. So I stayed.
But there wasn’t much left after most of the people went off to seek freedom. We stayed because we were afraid that the exodus would not lead anywhere. We were afraid that such a trek would take too much of a toll. That people would die. We were afraid that nothing would be gained.
I was sure that they would return. I stayed so that something would be there to welcome them back. But they didn’t come back. At first I was afraid they were in trouble. Then I was afraid I would never see them. Then I was afraid that I’d made the wrong choice in staying. Then I was afraid that I would never live to see the day where I was no longer afraid.
I died afraid. Three years to the day after they left. There’s nothing like death to give you a little perspective. I realized that I had lived my whole life denying my one true wish. To see the day where I could live without fear. Where I could live without worrying if I was going to be punished. Where I made my own choices. Where I was free.
I realized that it was my fear that kept me enslaved. That kept me from taking the risks to escape my own bondage.
Once I was dead I understood how many people – throughout time – have shared my same story. Living their whole lives in fear. Never taking a chance and find a new way.
The people of my time were willing to walk into the Red Sea to gain their freedom. Later, some were willing to walk into the sea rather than renounce their beliefs during the Inquisition. Still later, ‘witches’ were drowned in Salem until people were willing to put an end to the terror and tyranny. Still later, people in Montgomery marched toward freedom while others turned fire hoses on them. They did not let water keep them from freedom. They weren’t willing to let anything stand in their way.
When enough people are willing to make that choice, maybe all people will live free. When we pour ourselves into the common vessel of our mutual humanity, we will come together in a way where nothing can keep us divided. And there will no longer be any such thing as slave and free, oppressor and oppressed. We will all just be one. Willing to stand together. And move forward. To the Glory of Life.
*HYMN "I’m On My Way"
*GO IN PEACE
* - Please stand as you’re willing and able.