Tonight we remember a key part of our story, the rescue at the Red Sea. We remember and retell the story as part of God’s people, for we are descendants of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebecca, of Jacob and Leah and Rachel, and their twelve sons.
Joseph, sold by his brothers into slavery, saved the whole family from famine by bringing them to Egypt. Later expanding in number, they were made slaves and remained so for 400 years. There in Egypt, that mighty empire at whose wonders we are still discovering and marveling. Freedom from Egypt? Impossible!
Yet through a burning bush, God sent a shepherd, Moses, to say: “Let my people go.” When Pharoah refused, God turned the river to blood, sent frogs, gnats, flies, and more, concluding with death to the first born. God’s people packed their bags and ate a meal of lamb with its blood above their doors so that “death’s dark angel [would] sheathe his sword” and pass over them. Finally, fed up, Pharaoh said: Go. Our people fled into freedom!
Yet they soon found themselves on a dead end at Red Sea. Pharaoh realized his mistake and came after them with his army. Seeing themselves trapped between water and the enemy, our people panicked: Why did we leave if only to be slaughtered out here?
Moses said: “Do not be afraid; stand firm and see the deliverance that 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 have only to keep still.”[i]
Then a pillar of cloud blocked the Egyptian army’s view. Moses raised his staff, stretched out his hand, and as we heard read today, God drove back the sea, turned it into dry land, and the people walked right across. The Egyptians pursued them, also coming into the sea on the dry ground. God clogged their chariot wheels, let the waters return, tossing them into the sea. God saved our people and destroyed the enemy.
The Exodus is the story of epic escape, freedom from slavery. This is God’s story. God is the actor. The Lord—and only the Lord—saves. Humanity cannot save itself. Deliverance is definitively divine.
Though wonderfully good, this is hard news. Like our ancestors, we desperately try to save ourselves. We want to work our way out. We resist asking for and receiving help. We complain, deny and don’t trust.
We’ve inherited a tendency to fight. Bending over backwards attempting to make others approve of us. Accumulating, trying to fill an aching absence. Commanding and clinging, trying to grab control. The Exodus reminds us of this somber truth: we cannot save ourselves. We are like slaves in Egypt and dead-end at the Red Sea. We need a savior.
As those who often command, cling, try to control and complain, listen again to Moses: “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
“You only have to keep still.” Don’t do anything. Be still. “Be still, and know that I am God.”[ii]
We often, myself included, shoot off panicked prayers, frenzied with too much to do, striving and straining scared. How can we be still? How do you calm a panicked child?
Stop what you’re doing. Stop working. Take a break. Lie down. Go away.
Take deep breaths. Again and again, slow yourself down.
Color. It calms kids. Now adults have coloring books too.
Look. What catches your eye? What’s beautiful? Gaze at it. Listen to it. Yesterday it was a tall tree for me. Gazing at its wide girth and rootedness, I let go and felt supported. Stop to smell the roses. Watch the birds.
Be quiet. Stop talking. Disconnect from devices. Turn off the noise. Listen.
“Be still and know that I am God.” This may mean: Be quiet. Go sit down and watch me win.
Yet imagine a bird gathering her young, calming them under the shadow of her wings. Imagine a parent bending down and picking up a panicked child, holding, rocking, soothing. At some point, the child eventually becomes still, relaxing in loving arms.
Children of God, we have a savior. Where there is no way out, where we are frenetic and panicked, where rescue itself seems a dead end, as on the cross, God saves.
The Lord will fight for you. The Lord will heal you. The Lord will bring you home. Bending down to pick you up, holding, rocking, soothing with love. “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
[i] Exodus 14:13-14
[ii] Psalm 46:10
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