Scripture - Exodus 14:5-31 (get a few different readers)
READER 1: Gretchen
As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up and saw them—Egyptians! Coming at them!
They were totally afraid. They cried out in terror to God. They told Moses, “Weren’t the cemeteries large enough in Egypt so that you had to take us out here in the wilderness to die? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Back in Egypt didn’t we tell you this would happen? Didn’t we tell you, ‘Leave us alone here in Egypt—we’re better off as slaves in Egypt than as corpses in the wilderness.’”
Moses spoke to the people: “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and watch God do his work of salvation for you today. Take a good look at the Egyptians today for you’re never going to see them again.
God will fight the battle for you.
And you? You keep your mouths shut!”
READER 2: Sharon
God said to Moses: “Why cry out to me? Speak to the Israelites. Order them to get moving. Hold your staff high and stretch your hand out over the sea: Split the sea! The Israelites will walk through the sea on dry ground.
“Meanwhile I’ll make sure the Egyptians keep up their stubborn chase—I’ll use Pharaoh and his entire army, his chariots and horsemen, to put my Glory on display so that the Egyptians will realize that I am God.”
The angel of God that had been leading the camp of Israel now shifted and got behind them. And the Pillar of Cloud that had been in front also shifted to the rear. The Cloud was now between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel. The Cloud enshrouded one camp in darkness and flooded the other with light. The two camps didn’t come near each other all night.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and God, with a terrific east wind all night long, made the sea go back. He made the sea dry ground. The seawaters split.
The Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground with the waters a wall to the right and to the left. The Egyptians came after them in full pursuit, every horse and chariot and driver of Pharaoh racing into the middle of the sea. It was now the morning watch. God looked down from the Pillar of Fire and Cloud on the Egyptian army and threw them into a panic. He clogged the wheels of their chariots; they were stuck in the mud.
The Egyptians said, “Run from Israel! God is fighting on their side and against Egypt!”
God said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea and the waters will come back over the Egyptians, over their chariots, over their horsemen.”
Moses stretched his hand out over the sea: As the day broke and the Egyptians were running, the sea returned to its place as before. God dumped the Egyptians in the middle of the sea. The waters returned, drowning the chariots and riders of Pharaoh’s army that had chased after Israel into the sea. Not one of them survived.
But the Israelites walked right through the middle of the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall to the right and to the left. God delivered Israel that day from the oppression of the Egyptians. And Israel looked at the Egyptian dead, washed up on the shore of the sea, and realized the tremendous power that God brought against the Egyptians. The people were in reverent awe before God and trusted in God and his servant Moses.
How many times have you wished we could go back to the way things were? When I look back six months ago or a year ago and think about the relatively carefree existence I had - being able to call someone at the drop of a hat for a cup of coffee or walk, gleefully handing over my baby to whomever was nearest and ready to hold her, making plans for concerts or outings to the children’s museum - I could not imagine the situation we have now found ourselves in. I continue to live in this weird time loop where on the one hand, life has moved on - Michael is now in school and Genevieve will be starting daycare soon and the rhythms of my daily life have for the most part realigned to pre-pandemic days - and on the other hand, there is an indefinite pause on very important parts of my life - casually visiting family, errands to the mainland, impromptu parties with friends, gatherings held digitally instead of in-person. I joked the other day to someone “what is time anymore anyways?” when I realized that I had scheduled something over Labor Day weekend and it hadn’t occurred to me that that was in any way significant or different than any other weekend in my life.
When this all started, I didn’t think we would still be here six months from now. I thought that this would be over by the end of June. I still check the daily COVID counts from Maine. I still follow the news about the coronavirus - and the rest of the world - with a mixture of dread and frustration. I still breathe a bit easier and give thanks for how things have played out in Maine even as I worry about the rest of our country.
But I still wish for things to go back to the way they were...even as I realize that the way things were was not sustainable or just for a vast majority of people in this country, and I’m reminded again of the inflection point we have right now to create a new normal - a new more just, more equitable, more compassionate future both for those that have been hit the hardest by this pandemic and for our earth.
I feel sometimes a bit like the Israelites in this passage here - stuck between Pharaoh’s army and the sea with no apparent way out. In this moment, they start to do what seems perfectly reasonable to do in a situation like theirs - complain. Wish for the past. It was better back then even though we were slaves, they say to Moses. Better that we were slaves in Egypt than corpses out here in the wilderness. We want our old lives back - we have doubts and worries about what the future might bring.
What the story reminds me however, is that God is a God who makes a way when there is no way. God is with us when we take a look around us and all we see are barriers to hope. God is with us when we try to navigate the daily impossibilities of living in this world. God is with us when we get stuck and can’t see a way through. God is with us in the midst of our bitter complaining and our grieving for what once was. God is with us when we can feel God’s hand on our backs pushing us onward - and even when we can’t. God is with us as we feel like we are slogging through the muck and mud. God is with us when we leap and dance across dry ground.
And sometimes, when we’re feeling stuck, when we feel like we’ve got no good options before us, when we are yearning to be free but feel the heat of Pharaoh’s armies at our back - we have to move forward in faith not knowing how things are going to play out. Sometimes we have to step into the waters before the sea is parted - and trust that God will lead us through if we’re really seeking to follow God’s promise and leading.
As you think about your own life - or maybe even the life of this church or the wider community - what resonates for you? What are the places that you may feel stuck between a rock and a hard place? What needs an intervention of God’s power and glory to make a way through the sea for you?
There’s this beautiful movement for the Israelites from fear to faith as they find their deliverance through the sea. God’s might and power certainly came through in dramatic ways. Yet - Moses was the one who God used to make it happen. Moses stretched out his hand over the waters to act on God’s behalf for the sake of freedom and transformation.
So as we think about the kingdom of God - the promises of God that there will be a world defined by righteousness, justice, compassion, peace and hope - as we know that we are agents of God to prepare the way for this reality - What are you willing to stretch out so that God can work with you and from you? Stretch out your hand, sure, but stretch out your resources? Stretch out your security? Stretch out your worldview, your belief that only people who look like you and sound like you and believe like you can be followers of God? What are you willing to stretch out so that God can bless your effort with transformation, that just might be your own transformation instead of those folk out there?
We don’t know what the future will bring. We don’t know what will happen as we open ourselves to be used by God - I’m willing to bet that Moses didn’t know what God was going to do - but God acted and made a way -- and God will continue to make ways in our own lives and in our own world as we trust and step out in faith, even if the path isn’t clear, even if we’re wading out into murky waters.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.