Tonight, we remember a key part of our story, the rescue at the Red Sea. We retell the story as part of God’s people, descendants of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, and their twelve sons and daughter.
Sold as a slave, Joseph, 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 in Egypt, that mighty empire, whose wonders we are still discovering and marveling. Freedom from Egypt? Impossible!
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. Our people packed their bags and ate a meal of lamb with its blood above their doors so that coming death would pass over them. Finally, fed up, Pharaoh said: Go. Our people fled into freedom! But soon they were dead-end at Red Sea. Pharaoh came after them. Trapped between water and 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]
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 across. The Egyptians pursued, 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. Our story shows God 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 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.”
What? If only. We often, me included, work harder, try more, shoot off panicked prayers, frenzied, striving, and straining scared. Moses speaks like the Psalmist: “Be still and know that I am God.”[ii] How can we still from a frenzy? How do you calm a panicked child?
Stop. Breathe. Unplug. Gaze. Hold.
Stop what you’re doing. Take a break. Go outside. Change perspective. Take deep breaths. Slow yourself down. Notice easy in and out. Unplug. Disconnect from devices. Soothe. Sing a lullaby. Gaze. What catches your eye? What’s beautiful? Hold. Rock, sway, or stroll.
“Be still and know that I am God.” From stillness, what do you know? What are you grateful for? It will be easier to see God present. Imagine a bird gathering her young, calming them under the shadow of her wings. Imagine a parent picking up a panicked child, holding, rocking, soothing. The child eventually becomes still, relaxing in loving arms.
“Open your ears, O faithful people,” to good news. [iii] 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. God will shield and shelter you with “sure care.”[iv] 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
[iii] Offertory hymn: God has spoken to his people by Willard F. Jabusch (b. 1930), alt.
[iv] Opening hymn: At all times let me sing gladly by Carl P. Daw, Jr. (b. 1944) based on Psalm 34
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