September 12, 2021-“The Roundabout Way” (Exodus 13:17-18a)

Beginning today and for a month of Sundays I will preach a series of sermons which I am calling “Lessons from the Sinai for a Church in Transition.”

You as a church are in transition between installed pastors. David Bailey, your pastor of twenty-three years has retired, and it is not yet clear who your next pastor will be. For lack of any name at all, let’s just call that future pastor “Not David Bailey.” There is only one David Bailey in the world, and so I am confident in saying that whoever your Pastor Nominating Committee calls is going to be someone other than David Bailey.

Sometimes a search committee will ask me to explain what an interim pastor does, and I often explain one aspect of being an interim pastor by using the analogy of a winetasting. When you go to a winetasting, you sample a number of wines from different bottle lined up on the bar, and the winery gives you something to eat in between each wine, bread, cheese or a cracker. The idea is that you need to cleanse the palette from the last wine in order to properly appreciate the next wine, which is very different from the one you just had.

In David Bailey you enjoyed a fine wine of a pastor. My sense is that your next pastor is going to be another fine wine, but a very different sort of fine wine from David. Some of my work among you as an interim pastor is not to erase your pleasant memories of David, which I hope will stay with you to the end of your life, but to work on your tastebuds, cleansing your palette, and get your tastebuds ready to receive and taste that new pastor, who will be a new but very different fine wine from David Bailey.

As an interim pastor I find that churches in transition are reassured to find out that they are by no means alone in going through transition. Every church goes through transition sooner or later.

The exciting thing to me is that when you read the Bible you find all kinds of individuals and groups who have gone through transitions ahead of us and they have left behind Bible stories about their transitions that help us navigate our own.

My favorite transition stories are from the nation of Israel when they went through their own transition in the Sinai wilderness. Their time in the Sinai was really their in-between time between their old slave life in Egypt, which they had left behind, and their future life of abundance in the Promised Land, which had not quite come into view. You find in these stories a rich treasure trove of wisdom for the transition time, both for individuals in transition and churches in transition, and I want to share with you what I regard as some of the more important ones.

Today’s lesson from the Sinai for a church in transition has to do with the unexpected way that God led the Israelites during their transition.

Bible scholars tell us that it would have been possible for Moses to lead 600,000 Israelites from Egypt into the Promised Land in two weeks flat. Our story this morning tells us that God chose instead to take the people to the Promised Land in the longest way possible. When they leave Egypt and cross the Red Sea and go into the Sinai Peninsula instead of going East straight into the Promised Land, they take a hard right south toward Mt. Sinai in the southern peninsula and eventually go northeast from there to the Jordan River, the door into the Promised Land. Shockingly, it is a route that will take them two years to get to the Promised Land instead of two weeks. It’s a route the story describes as “the roundabout way.”

In our own time a roundabout is one of those things we encounter when we are driving. Virginians call it a “roondaboot.” (Those Virginians! They’re such a hoot!) Some call a roundabout “a traffic circle.” City and county planners call it a “traffic calming device.” Two truths about a roundabout: when you enter one, you can’t go fast, you have to slow down, and you can’t go straight, you have to keep turn