September 14, 2014; 14th Sunday after Pentecost – A – Open Sesame
Exodus 14:19-31- crossing the Red sea and the destruction of the Egyptian army
Romans 14:1-12- Do not pass judgment on one another, each one of us will give an account of himself to God.
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” Romans 14:11.
A boy was sitting on a park bench with an open Bible. He was loudly exclaiming his praise to God. “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! God is great!” he yelled without worrying whether anyone heard him or not.
Along came a man who had recently taken a liberal Bible class in college. Feeling himself very enlightened in the ways of truth and very eager to show this enlightenment, he asked the boy about the source of his joy.
The boy replied, “Don’t you have any idea what God is able to do? I just read that God opened up the waves of the Red Sea and led the whole nation of Israel right through the middle.”
The enlightened man sat down next to the boy with a chuckle and began to explain the “realities” of the miracles of the Bible. “That can all be very easily explained. Modern scholarship has shown that there was a mistranslation and it was not the Red Sea, it was the Reed Sea, a boggy area only 10-inches deep at. It was no problem for the Israelites to wade across.”
The boy was stumped. His eyes wandered from the man back to the Bible in his lap. The man, content that he had enlightened a poor, naive young person to the finer points of scientific insight, turned to go, but the boy began to rejoice and praise louder than before.
“Wow!” exclaimed the boy, “God is greater than I thought! Not only did He lead the whole nation of Israel through the Sea, He drowned the whole Egyptian army in 10 inches of water!”
Back in the 70s this theory about mistranslation was raised, but since then has been discounted by Biblical scholars. However, the depth of the Red Sea really is not what is important in this miracle. It doesn’t matter whether the Red Sea was 10”, 10’ or 100’ deep. What does matter is that God worked in the lives of His people when they needed God most. And God made that way for them. Open Sesame– not by magic, but by a mighty miracle.
We have been looking at amazing stories in Exodus that excite our imaginations: Moses in a basket in the river, the burning bush, the ten plagues. There will be the Ten Commandments, the golden calf, water gushing from rocks and manna from heaven… but there is one that stands out above the rest and touches the imagination in a unique way, and that is the crossing of the Red Sea.
Imagine a group of people being chased by an army and finding themselves pushed up against the sea. They were literally between a rock and a hard place: up against the Red Sea, locked in by mountains and trapped by the Egyptian army (project picture of the beach). God had promised to take them out of slavery and they had gotten their hopes up and then they found themselves in this predicament. Do you think they were scared? This was the most powerful nation on earth, they had technological superiority with their horses and chariots, the best weapons. The Hebrews had nothing, they had gathered up the belongings they could carry in the middle of the night and fled. The Egyptians suffered the 10 plagues, saw death come to every household. They were angry! They were out for blood! Yes, the Israelites were afraid! But this predicament didn’t take into account the God that had brought them this far.
What is so great about the parting of the Red Sea is that it is completely God. There was nothing the people of Israel could do to save themselves. There was no way to escape, no secret path they could take to safety. They were out of options. God provides the way of salvation in a way they could never imagine.
We don’t always live in the world that the Israelites lived in. We pay attention to the reminder that God helps those who help themselves. We know that we are to pray hard, but we also know that we are to work harder. It’s built into us that we are to do everything we can to take care of ourselves and our families. And yet we do sometimes find ourselves in situations that are beyond our control. We do sometimes find ourselves in places we cannot get out of. Sometimes we find ourselves caught between an army and a sea and all seems hopeless.
I want you to think about the things that threaten to overwhelm you. What is it that oppresses you? The people of Israel were living under a real oppression that we just don’t deal with. They were slaves. They spent their lives working for the Egyptians and had no control over their own lives because of this. They were so oppressed that when the Egyptians decided to kill all the boys being born to them, they couldn’t do anything about it. They were so oppressed that an Egyptian could kill an Israelite without consequence. They had no recourse. They had no control over their own lives.
I think we all can identify with the Exodus in some way. We might feel overwhelmed by our jobs, perhaps it is our responsibility at home that overwhelms us. Maybe we don’t know how we are going to get out of debt, or how we are going to deal with the difficulties that come with age. For some it is a marriage that doesn’t seem to be working out. For some it is chronic pain or illness.
And so we call out to God and do what we can to try to get out of the things that oppress us. But the thing about oppression is that it doesn’t let you out easily. Even when you think you are free, it comes after you. Israel had been told that they were free. They headed out, on their way to the wilderness, on their way to the Promised Land. But those who oppressed them had not given up. They came after them with an army. They meant to destroy the people of Israel.
The people of Israel didn’t handle it very well. There were many grumblers who kept complaining about everything. They held on to a distorted memory of “the good old days” back in Egypt. Exodus 14:11-12 is an example of the tip of the iceberg of their complaints: “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Harsh words came from the people of Israel. They had stepped out in faith and it seemed to be leading them to disaster. When we step out in faith things sometimes seem to go wrong, and we begin to ask these same questions? We wonder whether we really had been hearing God in our lives. We wonder if it may have been better to have continued the way we had been going. But the fact is that God didn’t call the people out to the shore of the Red Sea just to die. Instead, God had something great planned.
God had been leading the people of Israel with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night. And the pillar of cloud stopped the Egyptian army, the pillar of fire blocked them through the night.
God told Moses to take another step of faith, to stretch out his hand over the water. So many watching him wondered what he was doing. When nothing happened, many would have laughed at him and thought him a fool. I don’t know if anything happened at that time, possibly the first stirring of a breeze, but through the night as most tried to sleep and others were too afraid to slip under the waves of sleep, they surely heard the winds blowing through, like the winds we have had this week.
On a satellite shot and by diving in the area it, a land bridge has been discovered where the ground below the Red Sea slopes up in this place.
And they arose the next morning to see a way to salvation.
This is the point where faith pays off. You’ve got your back to the sea. You’ve got no place to go. Your problems are running you down. You’ve run out of options completely. And then God opens a way that was not there. God opens a path that did not exist. Up to this point it has been about trusting God. Up to this point it has been about accepting that God will fulfill his promises. Now it is just about following the path that God has set before you. I’m sure it would have been scary crossing the sea with walls of water on either side. Those who went first taking tentative steps; and then hurrying faster as they crossed to the other side.
Then God released the Egyptian armies who charged after the Israelites, but their advanced technology became their undoing. The feet of the Israelites crossed safely on the crust God had dried on the sea floor for them, but the heavy equipment of the Egyptians, the horses and the chariot wheels began to break through that crust and become bogged down in the mud. The Egyptian army was stuck in the mud when God directed Moses to wave his hand over the Red Sea again. This time the people of Israel watch with anticipation to see what would happen as God allowed the walls of water to crash together over the army of Egypt to destroy them.
In this important story is the basis for God’s salvation of His people out of physical slavery, and also salvation from the bondage of sin in our lives through Jesus Christ.
I would like to impress three lessons from this event on you today that can affect how we live and how we follow God.
First, the people of Israel called to God and asked for His help. We need to go to God in prayer; with our hopes and dreams, our trials and our needs. We must give up the illusion that we can work our own way out of them and lift up to God.
A 2nd lesson is to see that Israel followed where God led, even when they had no idea where they were going. There was a lot of grumbling and complaining, and those who did never got to see the Promised Land. The generation of grumblers who were always looking for someone to blame when food was short, or they ran short of water, they just couldn’t get to the point of putting faith and trust in God. The end result was that all of the adults who came out of Egypt, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb died during 40 years of wandering in the wilderness while the next generation grew up depending on God for everything they needed- manna and quail, water from the rock… They were ready to receive the promises of God by faith.
3rd, when Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, he was willing to look foolish for his faith. He put all his trust in God and allowed God to use him in a mighty way. 40 years later when the people of Israel stood before the raging waters of the Jordan River at flood stage, God asked for a similar step of faith, and when the feet of the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant touched the water, the waters parted and the people were able to cross on dry ground.
We need to step out in faith as well; call out to God for help, go where God leads and be ready to look foolish for God’s sake, put our trust in His faithfulness. And just watch to see what God does for your sake. Amen.
Here is the church
(fold your hands with fingers inside)
Here is the steeple
(put index fingers up to form the steeple of the church)
Open the doors
(move your thumbs apart to see inside the church)
And see all the people.
(show fingers inside, moving around but do not turn fingers to outside)
Close the doors,
(put thumbs together again, hiding the fingers within)
And hear the people pray.
(lift your hands up by your ear)
Open the doors,
(move thumbs apart again)
And they all walk away.
(unfold your hands and walk your fingers to show “people” walking away)