Our Guide
Exodus 13:17-14:31

In about a week’s time my brother and sister in law are heading off to tackle the Kokoda trail.  They’ve been training for months; I’ve been keeping up with their progress via their facebook page on the internet.  They’ve done lots of treks up steep mountains and along winding tracks to prepare them for the huge task ahead of them.  There has been lot’s of planning and preparation, they are both fit and ready to take on one of the toughest treks out there, so tough that there have even been a couple of Aussies die on the trail this year.

They’ve done their best to prepare, but when they get there they will still require a guide to lead them along the trail, some people will have porters to carry their equipment for them, but others will try to carry all of their own equipment and food on their own backs.  Without these porters and guides, no-one would be allowed on the trail, they are needed to keep the tourists safe.

As we heard in our first reading, and yes it was a long reading, the Israelites were on the trek of a lifetime too.  They were leaving Egypt and heading out through the wilderness, they were afraid and unsure, many wanted to just turn around and go back to slavery rather than take on a trek like that.  But God was there to be their guide, leading them from the front in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire in the night, to allow them to march night and day.

That must have been hard work!  To add to the problems the Egyptian army were sent to pursue them, capture them and bring them back to slavery.  No-one knew what would happen to them if the Egyptians caught up with them.  How many of them would die?

Thinking of being pursued by an army makes a close link to those who made the Kokoda trail famous back in 1942.  All of those Australian and Japanese troops going head to head on a remote and difficult trail, trying to win territory back from each other, no matter what the cost to human life, many of them would have felt a fear similar to that experienced by the Israelites as the Egyptian army came after them.

The Aussie troops didn’t have a pillar of fire or cloud to guide them, but they did have the ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’ to care for them though.  Lets hear a bit about them in the poem by Bert Beros;
Many a mother in Australia when the busy day is done
Sends a prayer to the Almighty for the keeping of her son
Asking that an angel guide him and bring him safely back
Now we see those prayers are answered on the Owen Stanley Track.

For they haven't any halos only holes slashed in their ears
And their faces worked by tattoos with scratch pins in their hair
Bringing back the badly wounded just as steady as a horse
Using leaves to keep the rain off and as gentle as a nurse

Slow and careful in the bad places on the awful mountain track
They look upon their faces would make you think Christ was black
Not a move to hurt the wounded as they treat him like a saint
It's a picture worth recording that an artist's yet to paint

Many a lad will see his mother and husbands see their wives
Just because the fuzzy wuzzy carried them to save their lives
From mortar bombs and machine gun fire or chance surprise attacks
To the safety and the care of doctors at the bottom of the track

May the mothers of Australia when they offer up a prayer
Mention those impromptu angels with their fuzzy wuzzy hair.

I wonder if these were angels sent by God to protect and care for those men as they battled on in such inhospitable country, sent by God in response to the prayers of all of those mothers praying for their sons back in Australia?
When the Israelites were scared Moses told them that they didn’t need to be afraid but to just stand firm, because the Lord would fight for them.
The Lord then told Moses to send the Israelites forward, to lift up his staff and stretch out his hand over the sea and it would be divided, so that God’s people could safely cross on dry ground.  Guided by God and his command for his people, Moses obeyed, and sure enough what the Lord had promised came true.
The cloud of God moved behind the Israelites to protect them and Moses lifted up his staff and raised his hand and the sea parted, the Israelites moved forward and crossed on the dry ground.  Then as the Egyptians followed the Lord told Moses to stretch out his hand so that the sea would return to its normal depth.
The Lord saved his people from the Egyptians as he had promised and the people saw it all and feared him and believed in him.  They continued to follow him through that desert on their huge journey.  As you know it didn’t stop them whinging and moaning but it certainly helped their belief in him.
I’m sure that the Aussie troops were grateful to the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels as they came and led them out of the jungle and cared for them, in fact I’ve seen documentaries where diggers had been reunited with the men who guided and cared for them and I’ve seen their gratitude expressed.
I reckon when my Brother and Sister In-law return from Kokoda they will be equally as grateful to the guides that they pay to lead them on their trek too.
But what can we learn from this?  God is still our guide too, he hasn’t left us in the wilderness, he is still with us, present in the body and blood of the Son in the sacrament, and he guides us now through his Word.
In the last week as the Pastors and Lay workers of the Victorian District were led through training by the Ambassadors of Reconciliation organisation we were constantly reminded of the power of the Word of God in bringing about reconciliation through exposing sin and speaking the good news of the Gospel into people’s lives.  God is still leading us from the front, protecting us from behind, nurturing us, caring for us and just flat out WITH us in all that we do.
He still sends angels to watch over us too, maybe we don’t give them a name like the diggers did, but they are there, sometimes we recognise them and sometimes we don’t.
Let’s thank God for all he has done for us, for watching over us in all of the situations in our life, good or bad, and for sending his son to take away the sins of the world, to guide us with his teaching and saving us through his body and blood.

Amen