Sermon Pentecost 13A Sunday September 11, 2011.
Exodus: Freed to Follow
19 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, 20 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.
21 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, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 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. 25 He jammed[a] 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.”
26 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.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward[b] it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. 28 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.
29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.
Today’s part of this Exodus journey is for any of us who have ever tried to fight our way out of trouble or fight our way to success forgetting that The Lord is the One who fight our battles. It is a Word for us who forget that the Lord is involved in our day, our issues, our fears, our world and all its concerns and who then try and who then try and win battles, be effective, be successful or control our circumstances to “feel better” about life.
We move from that great and dreadful night of the Passover to the first days of freedom with a huge mass of God’s people on the move out of Egypt to an unknown future. The future maybe unknown but at least it is freedom. The feeling of the people is jubilant, triumphant and hopeful. This will rapidly change to fear, doubt, complaint and back again!
Eventually even Pharaoh relents on his hard heartedness and in complete defeat and some anger and grief at the loss of his own Son (the future Pharaoh and son of Ra) and can’t wait for this troublesome people to get out of his country.
The Lord had promised that Israel would not leave empty handed from their slavery. As the Israelites quickly wrap up their meal on the move, word gets out they are out! The Egyptian locals can’t wait to see the back of Israel and in their enthusiasm give lots of stock, jewellery and things of gold and sliver.
This is Israel now as the victorious nation plundering the defeated foe. This is compensation for 400 years of slavery! 1.2 million people and all their livestock and belongings finally get going across the desert under Moses’ leadership. They are not going the short way though. We get a hint that this “little trip” up to Canaan will not be so direct or simple. This makes sense if we keep the purpose of God in mind. He has created this nation by a promise and sustained his promise from generation to generation. he has said that this nation will have a job. It will be the chosen nation through which He will bless all nations. They need to learn how to be a nation of blessing. They will learn this in the desert. It will take a whole generations length of time (40 years). But this is all ahead for the buoyant people of God at the beginning of their victory procession out into the desert to worship the Lord on his holy mountain. Pharaoh again changes his mind and this time there is a shift. Up until now, Pharaoh has been wanting to keep these people alive and working in his building sites etc…. But now he wants them dead, dead, dead. Eleven times in the texts before and including our text today we hear that “Pharaoh and all his horses and his chariots” pursued the Israelites. This is unbridled fury. This is road rage! The goal is no longer preservation of a slave nation but the total annihilation of a people. Can you imagine the terror that overtakes the now not so jubilant Israelites as they feel the vibration of hooves and chariots, see the dust cloud on the horizon and then finally “Look up and see” the Egyptians coming after them at speed! Instantly, the joy turns to terror, the victory to defeat and the faith to doubt. The doubt of Moses and “his” God comes in the form of complaint. This will be the first of many times when the people will complain against Moses and therefore doubt God. On one occasion later on they are ready to stone Moses to death! As the feeble arms drop an the knees knock, the people are now “crying out” again as they did in slavery, and as Moses did in the little ark. Nothing seems to been achieved and nothing seems to have changed. The same old foes and fears are upon them and they fall into the same old ways of dealing with them – without faith in the Living God. Sound familiar? To all of this fear and doubt and turning away from the Lord, Moses gives three short directives. Don’t be scared. Stand. See. Don’t be afraid, Stand up and See. When the old foes come and we feel like we are back where we started, we are to put fear away. We are stand at the ready like a soldier waiting for the battle and then See? What are we to see? We are to see the Lord at work – fighting our battles for us. Israel is an army now. A victorious army on the march but they are a strange army indeed. They are the only army in history who are to not be fearful, stand at the ready and not fight! This is because they cannot win and because the Lord does their fighting for them. They need only to “be still”. We are an army on a victory procession to life forever in the Lord. He has defeated the greater enemies of sin, evil and death itself and continues to do so as we put fear away, stand alert and watchful so we can see how the Lord fights our battles for us. We need only to be still and know that I am God, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 9. What a strange army we are! Are you trying to win your battles without reference to the Spirit of the Risen Jesus? You will fail. Are you trying to sure up your own position among others by a show of power or craftiness. You will fail and you will not be a blessing carrier to others as your called to be. Are we trying to work our way out of trouble without faith, reference or time for God’s word to us? We are then being that wicked and adulterous generation that Jesus mentions in Matthew 12. The Jewish religious leaders come to him and ask for a “sign” or show of raw power to convince everyone that Jesus really is “from God”. Jesus says that even the greatest show of power – the sign of Jonah – a person being dead three days in the belly of the earth like Jonah was in the belly of the whale – and then coming back to life and defeating the great enemy, death, will not be enough for sign-lookers. Friends, power will not sustain us or bring life and blessing to us and our world. It has its place and time as we see in our text when God does one more mighty act of defeat on Pharaoh by swallowing him and his army up in the sea. Our text ends with the witness that “the people feared the Lord and put their trust in Moses, his servant”. But how fleeting this moment of faith based on a show power would be! It would be a nano-second until doubt and unbelief and then idolatry would be back again in these same people. Is this why the Lord eventually became a human being in Jesus Christ and why Jesus wins the final victory over our idolatry and sin and its consequence of death in the weak looking crucifixion and death of his own son? Is this why Paul says that the good news of God’s freedom and grace poured out for all people is foolishness to people who look for signs of power to be convinced of God’s presence and will?
Is this why Paul says he proclaims Jesus Christ and him crucified, which is a stumbling block to people who are wanting a show of force to win the day?
Is this why Jesus revolutionised the Passover with his own body and blood given for the life of the world through very ordinary bread and wine and commands us to baptise people in God’s name with simple water but his powerful word and why belief and faith and joy come through hearing the Word, not by might or intellect or human strength? Friends, it is clear in all of this first part of Exodus that we have no power and no victory over anything that really matters in life and that to face life without reference to or faith in the Word of the Lord is futile. This way of the hard heart against the Lord will end in only one way – total destruction, as it did for Pharaoh. We are called to put fear way and trust. We are called to stand ready to be used by the Lord and see his hand at work in our day. To do anything else leads to our human idol factory getting the upper hand as we all convince ourselves that it was all our doing and that we have got to make this thing work and that we really are the key players in what we face. No, the Lord is always the key player. He is the beginning and the end, the Lord of all lords and the one who does our fighting for us in places we don’t even know about – “principalities and powers”, as Paul calls them. How sweet it is to be in the Lord’s victory procession and on his holy mountain as we worship in his presence and where he gives us the bread of life – his Word for the journey with him. Don’t be afraid of what you have to do or have to stop doing. Stand at the ready with your “sword” – the Word of God in your hand. See – see the Spirit of the risen Jesus at work in things Be still. It is enough for today to be still and simple know in the heart that God is; that God is I AM, fighting for you and winning his victory for your body mind and spirit everyday through very ordinary looking things. Moses and his sister Miriam penned a song after this great victory in the sea was won by the Lord on their behalf… In your unfailing love, O Lord, you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy place. The nations will hear and tremble… The Lord reigns for ever and ever. (Exodus 15:13ff)