Exodus 2:1-10, Psalm 121, Luke 1:30-38
A terrible thing happens to you when you go to seminary.
Good things too, but along with critical thinking comes cynicism. Phrases your grandmother used like cleanliness is next to godliness and God helps those who help themselves…
The beloved Footprints poem:
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,
“You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”
(At least 12 people claim to have written that!)
If offered glibly as the solution to any difficult time, it could come across as unhelpful. But the thing I think that know-it-all pastors hate about the poem the most is that: it’s so true.
I’ve been thinking about the Footprints poem because right now, in our Sunday worship and the VBS theme we just wrapped up, we’ve been exploring the ways that God amazes us. Amazes us to the point we could say OMG and really mean it. One of the ways God amazes us is by helping us.
Maybe the thing we most want to be amazed about is God helping us when we need it.
It’s perhaps the most basic religious instinct: even those who profess no faith in God sometimes find themselves praying for deliverance during difficult times.
The kind of help that I want is big dramatic help. Heroic help. I want to be amazed by the kind of glorious deliverance where I can see the sparks fly and hear the triumphant soundtrack. In other words, I want to see my God beat up on whatever comes in my way.
This, as you might be aware, is not usually how God works.
Even in one of the most glorious of mighty God deliverance stories, God works in other ways.
Maybe the mightiest and most glorious deliverance story there is is the Exodus of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.
When I think of dramatic help from God, I think of the Israelites being delivered from Pharaoh…
But our reading today tells a different side of the story. It’s more like the Footprints poem.
You see, only by the Grace of God did Moses even make it out of infancy.
Pharaoh worried about Israelites…midwives bravely help…mother of Moses hoping against hope that one woman could help her son by resisting a great evil…Pharaoh’s daughter, on the side of that great evil, but taking pity on baby Moses…Moses’ sister who cleverly used the situation to give Moses a chance, convincing the daughter of Pharaoh to seek out a wet nurse for her adopted Moses. The daughter had no idea she had reunited mother and son. All of these people worked together to help accomplish God’s will for the people — often without even knowing it.
Before Moses can even crawl on his own — he has been helped by God in amazing, if less visible, ways.
You wonder if Moses ever looked back on his life during those difficult moments — and he had them — and asked God, ‘Where have you been? I’ve left a lot of footprints in the sand while wandering in the desert for forty years. God, do you know what it’s like to walk alone? To face the anger of your followers?’
God might say: first of all, actually, yes I do, and second: my child, I was with you all along. I was by your side when you were three months old, floating in a basket among the reeds along the bank of the river. I was beside you then, and I never left.
I suspect for most of us, the journey of our lives has not primarily been God’s dramatic acts of help. (Imagine God raining down a plague of frogs the next time someone cuts you off in traffic.) But I imagine instead, your life has been a story of God’s unexpected help in seemingly small but consistent ways throughout your life.
If we look more closely at the sand along our journey, we will see more than just God’s footprints and our own. We will see the tracks of countless others that God has woven into our lives, maybe at times when we most needed it, but least expected it. It’s possible they didn’t even know they were helping us.
If you look back at your life and only see two sets of footprints, you aren’t looking hard enough.
Because not only has God brought these other sets of footprints into your life, but God has woven you into the lives of others. After all, God loves to use unexpected and unsuspecting people to help others in this world. Maybe the last person you expect to be God’s set of footprints…is you.
The most amazing thing about God’s help — the kind of thing that should make us say OMG (and mean it!) — is that God’s help doesn’t just happen to us — it happens through us.
God didn’t draw us up from the water or guide us through the desert or, yes, even carry us along the beach sand for no reason; God has woven together all these minor miracles in your life so that you can share them in the lives of others.
Even when you least expect it.