St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Pentecost 15 2017 Sermon
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Corby Varness

Does it seem to you that we have had an awful lot of disasters lately?  I recently heard this snippet on TV: “The full extent of the damage is not yet known.”  I thought: ‘Hurricane Irma … or is it still about Hurricane Harvey?  Wait, that horrible earthquake in Mexico happened.  Are they talking about that? There are terrible fires all over the west.  Did North Korea successfully detonate a bomb over a populated area?  Oh, there are those horrendous floods in Bangladesh too.  Or maybe there has been a terrorist attack somewhere in the world.’  Bam. Bam. Bam.  Horror after horror raced through my head.  There were way too many terrible events to consider.  I felt afraid and overwhelmed and I didn’t know where to turn.
           
Let’s look at our reading from the Hebrew Bible today and consider how those Israelites are feeling.  For four hundred years they have been abused as slaves of the Egyptian rulers.  Moses begs the Pharaoh to let his people go but the Pharaoh has no intention of losing his work force.  Yahweh hits them with the ten plagues and finally, finally the Pharaoh gives in so Moses runs to his people and hurriedly urges everyone to get going NOW! 
           
They form a long, haggard parade stumbling out of the city in the dark night.  Moses leads them along an odd route because they can’t take the good, wide road.  Too many Egyptian soldiers that way.  They scramble along, urging each other to rush.
           
Meanwhile, the Pharaoh meets with his advisors who yell at him.  "We need those Israelites to build our cities and temples and pyramids!  Get them back immediately!”  So the Pharaoh decides to chase after them, taking 600 chariots and a huge army. 
           
The Israelites hear a thundering sound as the army bears down on them.  They rush along, only to find themselves trapped on the shore of the Red Sea.  The army is approaching, the sea stops their exit.  They turn on Moses and yell at him.  They would rather have just lived their miserable lives as slaves than die in the desert at the hands of the soldiers. 
           
The Israelites are stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea.  The angel of God is there, as a pillar of cloud, hiding the army of Egypt but the people can hear the horses clomping and the soldiers’ boots tromping. Moses carefully urges the hesitant people into the water, promising them that God will take care of them, God will lead them.             

Moses yells at the panicking crowd to hear him.  “All of you!  You are going into this sea, not as suffering slaves but as free men and women.  God is with you and no one can take that away from you!”  Moses stretches out his hand over the sea and the people, united as never before, rush forward and the sea draws back, just enough to let them through.
           
It’s a big body of water but the terrified people can see that God really is with them; protecting them.  They rush and rush across the strange, dry ground, the waters forming a wall on both sides.  They can see the Egyptian army pursuing them as the skies brighten with the dawn.  The Israelites scramble up the banks of the sea onto dry land while the Lord, in his pillar of fire, has had enough of the Egyptians.  He clogs their chariot wheels as Moses once again raises his arm, this time from the distant shore.  The sea rushes back to its normal depth, drowning the Pharaoh and his whole army. 
           
The Lord saves the people of Israel on that day and the people finally trust the Lord and Moses to lead them.  So a lot was accomplished in this amazing story.  This is considered to be one of the most important stories in the Hebrew bible.  It IS a little over the top though, isn’t it?
           
Well, here’s what Joey has to say about that when his mom asks him what he learned in Sunday school: "Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he had his engineers build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely. Then he used his walkie-talkie to radio headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved."
           
His mother asked: ”Now, Joey, is that really what your teacher taught you?"
           
"Well, no, Mom. But if I told it the way the teacher did, you'd never believe it!”
           
The parting of the Red Sea is a story of justice and faith.  Egypt is a brutal regime built on the backs of slaves. Pharaoh cares more about maintaining his power and comfort than about recognizing the humanity of the Israelites. He has many opportunities to free them but his heart is hardened again and again. 
           
The parting of the Red Sea is a story of weak vs strong, poor vs rich, oppressed vs oppressor, powerless vs powerful.  God’s heart is always with the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the powerless, just as it is in this story. God’s divine justice saves the people of Israel.
           
The parting of the Red Sea is a story about trust.  Would the people, standing on the shoreline, trust that God would protect them?  Barry J. Robinson writes: “There comes a moment of unearthly silence when we stand firm in our resolve between the devil and the deep blue sea, a moment when we must wait to see what God will do because it is the only thing we can do.  When no one can see a way for us to the other side.  When we must simply reach down within ourselves and find that source of fearlessness, dignity and integrity. It is then that a path opens before us, a way out of what seemed an impossible dilemma into that new day that God alone can provide.”
           
The Israelites stood in the dark, facing the cold, deep water.  Their darkness was lit by the cloud of God.  God was with them but they didn’t feel it.  God was with them as they stumbled into the water.  God opened a path for them through the darkness.
           
God does this.  God opens paths for us through our darkness and fear.  We may not see that cloud of light protecting us but it is there.  We must try to trust that God will take care of us, take care of everything.
 
So when faced with endless news of disasters, when overwhelmed by life, we must stop, pray, and reach deep within our hearts to trust that God is right here with us, protecting and loving us.   God holds us in his loving hands and showers us with his amazing, abundant grace.
Amen.


 
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