God intentionally led the people of Israel out of Egypt by a roundabout way, reminding us that sometimes the best part of the journey is not arriving at the destination but what we learn along the way, the people we meet, the experiences we have, the opportunities to try something new because as the people of Israel soon learn “beginning a journey involves leaving ‘home’–whether that is a physical place in order to explore another part of the world, or changing a mindset that is keeping us from expanding our spiritual capacity.”
June 4, 2023
“The Awakened Traveler”
Leaving Home (Part 1)
Exodus 13: 17-20
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
Leaving Home Exodus 13: 17-20
“We are about to embark on a journey for the next four weeks. It is a journey about journeying, about traveling as a spiritual act. Whether you travel far away or simply begin to see our local surroundings as if for the first time, “pilgrimage” has long been a spiritual practice, and “journey” a deeply-felt metaphor for our spiritual lives. “Quest” comes from the Latin root meaning “ask” and “seek.” This four week worship series will encourage us to open ourselves more fully to the curiosity and wonder, reflection and transformation that travelers–not merely tourists–experience when we choose to immerse ourselves in soul-widening adventures.”
This is the description shared by the creator of this series. When I came across this series, immediately it made a connection for me because that is what seems to be happening within our own community of faith….traveling. For two years during Covid, most people stayed home but now that we can get out into the world, that is what our members are doing. They are getting out into the world. They are seeing new places. They are having wonderful experiences. They are experiencing the world like never before.
But as I sat with the scriptures, planned out the services, imagined the conversations connected to this series, what connected even more than the real life travel opportunities was the spiritual journey we find ourselves on right now…traveling away from the known, discovering new opportunities to engage the Divine in our midst, opening ourselves up to the wonder and awe Creation has to offer, and processing what all these new experiences mean for us as a community of faith.
The main point of the series is not so much where or how you “travel,” but that the act of expanding our horizons and challenging our preconceived notions is essential to our journey of faith. This is the “travelers mindset” and it can also happen right at home.
We will be using material created by Rick Steves and his video journals about his travels. He says that the opposite of fear is understanding. And the only way to understand life and the world better is to expand our horizons, which in turn expands our perspectives. This first week, we set the stage for the journey. As we listen to Rick’s list of the benefits of travel (honesty, authenticity, more tolerance, I invite you to think about which ones will you highlight as “worth the risk” of stepping out our doors and into this adventure? What mindsets are we in need of changing in order to live out the commission to love our neighbor as ourselves? To begin our journey as awakened travelers, I invite everyone to watch: “Reasons Why We Travel” by Rick Steves.
Video available at https://youtu.be/o02Y1jKyi9Y
When we travel, the first step is always leaving home. The first step out the door is the one that counts the most, because without it, the journey won’t happen. So I invite everyone to hear these words which begin a journey for the people of Israel…
Exodus 13: 17-21
When Pharaoh let the people go, God didn’t lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, even though that was the shorter route. God thought, If the people have to fight and face war, they will run back to Egypt. So God led the people by the roundabout way of the Reed Sea desert.
The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt ready for battle. Moses took with him Joseph’s bones just as Joseph had made Israel’s sons promise when he said to them, “When God takes care of you, you must carry my bones out of here with you.” They set out from Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. The Lord went in front of them during the day in a column of cloud to guide them and at night in a column of lightning to give them light. This way they could travel during the day and at night.
This is the start of a new beginning for the Israelites. The first Passover has already occurred. The Pharaoh has released the people. They are setting out on this journey which will eventually transform them from people who live in oppression to becoming the people, the community which God created them and called them to be.
In this part of the Exodus story, we get a theological grounding for the people’s journey ahead. This part of the narrative ties together what the people had experienced in the past to the promise of wholeness becoming a reality for all of God’s people here and now. It invites all of God’s people to step out of the darkness and embrace the light and love of God. This theological grounding for the journey ahead reframes the people’s narrative…no longer one of brokenness and hurt which defined the people’s history. Now the people’s narrative is rooted in the vision of God’s shalom fully realized here on Earth, a vision where God’s glory shines all around, a vision where the work of healing and wholeness is complete, And it all starts with this particular moment in the people’s story….a moment in time which recognizes that departing from what we used to know will be difficult, a moment in time which recognizes that there will be temptations to go back to the way things used to be, it all starts with leaving home and taking that first step on their journey of transformation.
As readers, we are told that God did not lead them by the way of the Philistines even though it was the shorter route. Instead God thought if the people had to fight and face war, they would go back to Egypt, that they would abandon this vision of healing and wholeness and instead choose oppression and suffering. At the very beginning of this journey, this journey which would transform the people from ones who live surrounded by broken, unfair systems, to ones who become the community of love which God created them to be, at the very beginning of this journey, God knew that if the people faced danger in any way, shape or form, that they would choose to go back to the way things used to be because it was easy, because it was comfortable, because it was what they knew even though that way would never bring about God’s Kingdom being fully realized here on Earth for all of God’s people.
So what does God do… God takes them by the roundabout way of the wilderness, a place where the people are confronted with their idolatry, a place where the people are stripped of their arrogance and sense of self-reliance. God takes them by the roundabout way of the wilderness, where the people are humbled by the Spirit of God, where they are invited to be in relationship with each other and with their God who loves them more than they could ever know. God takes them by the roundabout way of the wilderness where they are called to be participants in this vision of healing and wholeness given for all of God’s people.
Because as the Israelites discovered as they began their journey and as we will soon discover as Awakened Travelers: “Leaving home, whether that is a physical place in order to explore another part of the world, or changing a mindset which is keeping us from expanding our spiritual capacity, leaving home can be filled with anticipation and excitement, but also trepidation about the unknown. Sometimes leaving the familiar, even when we know we must all at some point do this, can seem overwhelming. Embarking on a new adventure into the unfamiliar, such as a new job or new relationship or a new travel route, can often lead to a moment of questioning: “why did I think this was a good idea?” Of course, further down the road, we often see the advantages, we learn and grow in ways we could not have if we had not left the comfort of the known.
What the Israelites discovered as they began their journey, and as we are reminded of again today, we have nothing to fear as we set out on our new adventures, as we set out on our travels, as we leave home and go out into the unknown because there is no where we can go that God is not with us on our journeys. All along as the people of Israel discovered and, as we as awakened travelers are reminded of as we make our way through our current roundabout way of the wilderness, God is there, leading us. For the people of Israel it was a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night,surrounding them behind and before with a visible sign of God’s presence in and among the people. For us God is doing the same thing, giving us signs to show us that God is there, leading us, guiding us, encouraging us through this roundabout way in the wilderness.
Because just like the Israelite people all those years ago, as awakened travelers, we soon discover that this leaving home, that cultivating a traveler’s mind set reminds us that it is not so much the destination but what we learn on the journey as we go. May it be so.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, June 4, 2023 – Leaving Home Exodus 13: 17-20.