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.
Scripture - Exodus 12:1-14
Exodus 12:1-14 (The Message)
12 1-10 God said to Moses and Aaron while still in Egypt, “This month is to be the first month of the year for you. Address the whole community of Israel; tell them that on the tenth of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one lamb to a house. If the family is too small for a lamb, then share it with a close neighbor, depending on the number of persons involved. Be mindful of how much each person will eat. Your lamb must be a healthy male, one year old; you can select it from either the sheep or the goats. Keep it penned until the fourteenth day of this month and then slaughter it—the entire community of Israel will do this—at dusk. Then take some of the blood and smear it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which you will eat it. You are to eat the meat, roasted in the fire, that night, along with bread, made without yeast, and bitter herbs. Don’t eat any of it raw or boiled in water; make sure it’s roasted—the whole animal, head, legs, and innards. Don’t leave any of it until morning; if there are leftovers, burn them in the fire.
11 “And here is how you are to eat it: Be fully dressed with your sandals on and your stick in your hand. Eat in a hurry; it’s the Passover to God.
12-13 “I will go through the land of Egypt on this night and strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, whether human or animal, and bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am God. The blood will serve as a sign on the houses where you live. When I see the blood I will pass over you—no disaster will touch you when I strike the land of Egypt.
14 “This will be a memorial day for you; you will celebrate it as a festival to God down through the generations, a fixed festival celebration to be observed always.
Sermon - Melissa
The passage that we just heard comes in the middle of a much larger story - the journey of the Hebrew people, enslaved in Egypt, leaving their old life behind and before the promise of their own land that God would bring them to where they could be a sovereign people. God is about to liberate them from their oppressors by initiating the final plague against Pharaoh and the Egyptian people where the Angel of Death will sweep over the land, killing all the firstborn, human and animal alike. In this passage, God gives Moses and Aaron the instructions that would ensure the safety and protection of the fleeing slaves and instituted a ritual meal that would serve as reminders for generations to come of their chosen status as God’s people. In this act, they are no longer slaves, but family...known as the descendents of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - in this act, they are no longer oppressed, but liberated - in this act, they are no longer bound by a present full of despair, but launched into a future of hope and promise. So this is not only a story about liberation, but a story about the formation of identity as a people of God.
To be sure this isn’t a comfortable story. In it, we have to face a God that exacts painful judgment on a people and we wrestle with the fact that some are spared while others are not. God here brings down disaster after disaster on an empire that most likely also cried out for relief from locusts, darkness, frogs and flies, boils - to name a few. To be fair, Moses warns Pharaoh before each and every plague. This final violent act, God promises Moses, will be the one that changes Pharaoh’s mind - so the Israelites must be ready to move with whatever they could carry.
So why do we, in this day and age, need to consider these things? Why can’t we leave this story to the history books and focus our hearts and minds on kindler, gentler aspects of life and faith?
I believe our time calls for a similar sense of urgency as we find in the Exodus story. God’s people ready to move, ready to resist the powers and principalities of this world, ready to drive the transformation needed in our church and in our wider culture. As Rev. Dr. Derek Weber writes, “that there are things worth killing, things that need to die for truth to live is a harsh reality that we cannot avoid. And some of those things are like firstborn children to those who hold on to them.”
In this story from Exodus we find instructions for the careful preparations the Israelites will need to make for the journey from slavery to freedom. In these preparations, there is acknowledgement for the suffering that has been experienced, the suffering that will enable their escape, as well as the suffering to come. The road to liberation is not an easily traveled one. Some things will have to be set aside and left behind for the journey to be successful.
Walter Brueggemann provides commentary on this text, on the people's "large sense of protectedness from the midnight violence that is loosed in the empire." On one hand there is some sense that we are "abidingly cared for in a world that is under profound threat" -- that God abides with us, provides for us, and protects us from all manner of evil on every side.
However, Brueggemann also sees Pharaoh and Egypt in "every agent of oppression and abuse (including one's own socioeconomic system)," and urges us to "an important restlessness. Indeed, when the community of faith no longer has this 'festival of urgent departure,' it runs the risk of being excessively and in unseemly ways at home in the empire."
The invitation in this story, then, is to both be like the Israelites - ready to move, ready to be a witness of God’s liberating, transforming power -- and acknowledge the ways that we’ve accommodated ourselves in Empire and be ready to set those things aside for the sake of the freedom journey.
Certainly there are attitudes and behaviors within our own hearts to leave behind. There are also practices and beliefs prevalent in our churches and our culture that need to be sacrificed for the sake of God’s kingdom. Our nation’s history of white supremacy on a cultural level and our own personal emotional reactions as we talk about racism with our families and neighbors. Our global climate crisis where we’re seeing huge shifts in weather patterns with devastating effects and our own personal consumptive habits. Our worsening political tensions that divide friends and families and neighbors and our own needs to be right. Or - again in the words of Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, “What gods do we worship today? What gods that we are holding as sacrosanct, as precious to our self-identity, does our God want to execute judgement upon?”
I want to invite us into a time of confession, as we offer to God those things we want to leave behind, the places where we are complicit with the powers and principalities of this world, the gods we are holding on to that require God’s judgment. These confessions can be personal, they can be communal for our church or our nation. If you have pen and paper nearby, jot those things down as you reflect on them. We’ll have several minutes to examine ourselves before moving into a time of prayer.
[reflection - play Jars of Clay “Oh My God” - lyrics: https://genius.com/Jars-of-clay-oh-my-god-lyrics]
During our time of prayer, there will be opportunities to name the places that you’ve identified within yourself or within our church or our culture. You can unmute and share them aloud or use the chat box and I will name them.
Let us pray.
God you call us to be ready - to be a people on the move, to be a people unveiling your kingdom around us, to be a people that shows forth your liberating love and power in our lives and in our world. And yet we confess that all too often, we express complacency and comfort. We sometimes unknowingly perpetuate suffering in this world. We sometimes inflict harm on others. We find ourselves more like Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Forgive us, Lord. We name before you the places we yearn to set aside and leave behind on the journey toward your justice and wholeness.
[people name places]
Hear us, O God, as we pray to you. Enable us to more faithfully follow Jesus, who proclaimed release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed and healing for the sick. Equip us with urgent passion for the transformation of this world for the sake of those bound by the chains of slavery and oppression. Amen.
In all this, I pray that we are given a continuing restlessness for the liberating work of God in our world as we remember this story where on the one hand we have judgment for oppression and injustice and on the other hand who cares about all God’s children. May we remember that this isn’t an easy or safe calling….it is not about keeping silent and hoping for the best. It is not about keeping the status quo or not rocking the boat. It is about rising up and being ready to move towards the transformation of our own hearts and towards that of society as a whole - as God’s kingdom is seen within us...and as God’s kingdom is seen around us. The journey is long, the journey is hard, but God walks alongside us, leading each one of us to freedom - and leading our world as well. May we ever be ready to take each next step along the way. Amen.
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.