Deliverance In Action
Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh's horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, "Let's get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt." Then the Lord said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen." Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen-the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant. Exodus 14:19-32 Read the whole chapter.
This morning we find ourselves looking at and reflecting on a pretty well-known passage of Scripture from Exodus. It's the very iconic part of the story that in Cecil B DeMille's version of The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston, where Charlton Heston playing Moses stands there with his arms spread and you see those walls of water and the people of Israel marching through them. In the animated version of the Prince of Egypt and other versions of that, we have this wonderful miraculous story of this body of water being parted to admit the Israelites to travel through. And then the waves that come crashing down back upon the Egyptian soldiers and their chariots. In this story, we hear about the deliverance of God at work actively involved in following through and making possible the deliverance, the salvation of his people.
Now we don't see God work in this way today it doesn't seem. And yet, why this story? It's an important story. It's one in which we hear about the history of God working with the people of Israel. But we also need to remember that it's apparently not the most important part of the story. In fact, last week we looked at that text that covered the Passover and specifically in the Passover was that liturgy, that ritual for remembering and celebrating the Passover. In fact, they're told it will be this day that forever changed your calendars. That this will be the first day of the year. You'll remember this for generations to generations. There's no such instructions when they pass through the red sea. And yet it's remembered because we have this story.
So what do we make of this? How do we interpret it? How do we understand? How do we inform our faith through what God did for the people of Israel? There's this pillar of smoke and fire that is kind of the vanguard going before the people leading them. There could have been other directions that they departed from Egypt. But previously in chapter 13, God even tells Moses, 'look you could go up around this way and it's smooth walking because it's all dry ground, but boy the Philistines live up there and if they attack that's going to dishearten the people and they're going to run back.' So God led them straight toward a body of water. Now, normally bodies of water are barriers that prohibit passage. And yet, that's the direction they went. As they drew near this pillar went from being in front of the people of Israel to being behind them to separate them from the army of Egypt and to keep them protected. God was working and moving in a way that the people of Israel could not have done themselves. Even though the text calls them 'The Army of Israel' they were anything but an army. These were people who were refugees who had fled with nothing but the shirts on their backs. And the few things that they could gather and bundle up and carry with them, they are no army. Yet God is the one who is going to be with them.
Prior to our reading starting in chapter 19, verse 13, in this chapter is where it kind of sets the stage for us. The people are concerned and know that Pharaoh is coming after him. But Moses says to the people, 'Do not be afraid. Stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you and you only have to keep still.' Basically Moses tells the people, 'alright, the Egyptian army is coming. Here's what you need to do. Do nothing. Sit back and watch what God is going to accomplish.' Now we're not very good at that, are we? We like to be active. We like to think that we are in charge. We like to have the idea that there is something that we can do about each and every situation we're in. Some way that we can improve our lot, some way that we can be active and working to address the situations we face.
For the people of Israel though Moses instructed them, 'Do nothing. Keep still and watch what God is going to do.' I think that is the key part of this story. Watch what God will do. And it's good advice. It's a good instruction for us as well. But how often are we watching and looking to see how and in all the ways in which God is working and moving in the world around us? You and I don't probably don't need to be delivered from an Egyptian army. But yet, you and I have things that we need to be delivered from in our lives as well, from depression, from isolation, from hurts, from worries, from anxiety, from fear. We have things that we need delivered from all of the time. But how often rather than waiting to see what God is doing, do we think 'alright, what do I need to do? What's the next self-help guru that's going to tell me how I can fix what's going on in my life? How can I take care of this all by myself?' Instead of stepping back and being still and looking to see how God is already at work to address the situation that we're facing. We don't do well. In fact, as people of faith, I think sometimes we don't believe enough in God. We don't believe in a God who is active and working and moving and present here and now in the moment that we're in. That God is some distant far off God sitting on a throne who occasionally will glance our direction to make sure we're behaving but otherwise doesn't take much interest in us. That's how we act. And that's how we live at times. And yet, this is a God who is active and involved in our lives and in our world. Just like he was when he delivered the Israelites from Egypt. God was active and moving that day. And God has been active and moving every day since.
I've occasionally referenced it and Melissa will tell you that she gets tired of me saying these words, in fact, she's probably sitting at home watching the service right now and about to roll her eyes. But I was listening to a podcast the other day. This is one of my favorite past times. I love podcasts. For one, I can put them on when I'm in the car and I can listen to them. And I listen to all kinds of podcasts. If you're not familiar with it, a podcast is kind of like a radio program. But I stream them through my phone. I listen to podcasts about technology, the environment, some about religion, and interpreting Scripture. I listen to some that are about current events and economics. And some that are just good human interest stories.
I was listening to a new podcast the other day. The podcast is titled "Constellation Prize". Bianca Giaever is the producer of it. She interviews people about life and about them trying to make sense of and understand life. In the first episode of this podcast, she followed and interviewed a woman named Sophia who's a crossing guard in New York City. She followed and interviewed her for about six months. It was condensed down into a single 45-minute episode. But Sophia prior to being a crossing guard was an atheist professor of philosophy at Columbia University. She has tenured and had been on the job for 10 years working six long days a week. She became disillusioned and disenfranchised with the work and decided I just can't keep doing this anymore. So she quit her job and during that time of unemployment she was sitting at home trying to figure out what am I going to do? She ran into one of her neighbors in the lobby of her apartment building on a Tuesday morning at 11:45, was dressed really nice and in such a good mood and positive spirit that she said, 'what are you doing?' And she said, 'I'm going to my mass at the church across the street.' Now mind you Sophia was an atheist, professor of philosophy and she was intrigued by this woman who was so excited and dressed up and ready to go on a Tuesday morning. And the neighbor invited her. So she thought, 'well, I'm not doing anything. I'm just sitting around. Why not? It's a social event. It's no different than going to a book club or going for a workout.' So she started going to mass with her. She started watching and observing. One of the things that really captivated her was watching the priest take the communion elements and lift them up and say, 'this is the body and blood of Christ.' She talked to the priest afterward and said, ' do you really believe that?' He said, 'not only do I believe that and not only do all Catholics believe that, but it's true.' So she said, 'I decided what if I allowed myself the possibility that this is true?' In the interview, she said, 'my mind cracked open the door to if this is true, look how interesting the world becomes. If this is true, if God somehow is present in this moment of celebrating the Eucharist together, if God is true and present in this world, how much more meaningful does life become?' So she kept going and she eventually went through the process to become a member of the church because she wanted more than anything to be able to participate in Communion. She said when she did the world that has all of these sharp and pokey edges suddenly she said it seemed as though nothing really hurt as much as it usually did. That her life was forever changed and transformed because she had opened herself up to that possibility of if this is true.
Now, this was a person who had spent many years of her life as an atheist. Skeptical and doubting and not believing and yet how often do people of faith, people who claim the name Christian not live as if it is true? Not live completely and fully as if it is true. That God is present and active and working and moving in our world. You see as this woman discovered life becomes very different. Life becomes much more interesting. Life becomes technicolor as we see the mystery and the wonder and the awe and the majesty of God present and working and performing miracles around us each and every day. It doesn't take something on the scale of the sea parting and the people traveling through on dry ground to say, 'oh my word, look what God has done.' It takes us waking up in the morning and seeing the sun rise. Of watching a honey bee fly around that scientists say should not be able to fly because aerodynamically it's not possible and yet they do. Of watching flowers bloom and children laugh. Seeing the rain come down and the seasons change. There are miracles that are taking place around us. All of the time. And if it's true, we should have eyes to see them and notice that this God is not so far off. But this God is here and now present with us, guiding us, watching over us, leading us, delivering us from the things that weigh us down.
So how do we begin to see? How do we begin to open ourselves up to the, 'if this is true' way of living? In our hymnals, it's actually on page 877, it's not just a book of songs. But it's also a worship book that has the liturgies for funerals and weddings. We have an order for morning prayer and praise. They're called daily offices or daily prayers. But the prayer on page 877 that's in our hymnal, is one that I think is a great way for us to begin thinking about this. The prayer says, "New every morning is your love great God of light. And all day long you are working for good in the world." For people that pray a daily office or use a devotion that has these written or ritualized prayers, one of the things about praying these prayers is they begin to shape us and form us. For this congregation, because we celebrate this sacrament of Holy Communion on a weekly basis, I suspect there are a lot of parts of our liturgy that you remember, that you know, and it's shaped you. Praying the Lord's prayer repeatedly and regularly has shaped you. Reciting Psalm 23 or John 3:16 or other well-known verses of Scripture has shaped your understanding of who God is and of who God's son Jesus is in your life.
I think the thing about this prayer that has been on my mind for the past few months is this reminder. This is called a prayer of thanksgiving in that order of morning praise and worship. But what would your day be like if you got up and prayed this prayer and reminded yourself, "New every day is your love great God of light and all day long you are working for good in the world." What if we opened our day with this prayer and then began our day by going out with eyes open to see how is God working for good in the world today? Where do I see God unfolding and revealing and making that good known and real and present? How can I be a part of it? Because the prayer continues and says, "Stir up in us the desire to serve you, to live peacefully with our neighbors, and to devote each day to your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord."
Friends, the deliverance that God made possible for the people of Israel revealed that God was going to be with them no matter what. It revealed that God was going to make possible things that they could not do on their own. That God was working for their good that day and every day since. And it's the same God that we put our faith and our trust in. The end of chapter 14, after these things had happened, after the people had walked through and seen the Egyptian army overcome, it said "Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians so the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and his servant Moses." Where have you seen God doing great things in this world and in your life? How has that moved you to a deeper trust and belief in God? When it says, "so the people feared the Lord", this wasn't a terrified, shaking in your boots, falling on your knees kind of fear. This is the kind of fear that makes you stand in awe, mouth open, saying, 'Wow, did you just see what happened? Did you just see what our God did for us?' Fear of the Lord is just that, it's reverence. It's respect. It's awe. And for this God who is active and delivering people at all times in all places, may we have eyes to see how this God is moving and working. Not just in your life and mine, but in this world that we might see and know his goodness, his mercy, and his love.