All week I have been focusing my attention on the few lines I was struggle with. “Then the waters returned and covered the chariots and chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained.” (Exodus 14:28) I’ve been thinking about their families and the people who will miss them. That led me to thinking about all the refugees that have drowned in the sea because they were on overcrowded boats. And then given the choice between returning to their home and getting in an unsafe boat. They choose the boat, hoping for something better.
I stewed. What to say. How is this a story of liberation? I asked these kinds of questions until I happened to watched a video preview for a new bible study called, “Following a Nobody from Nowhere: A series of videos on the invitation to follow Jesus.” Greg Boyle reminded me that God is always about those who find themselves on the margins. The quote that stands out comes from Richard Rohr, “God is in immediate personal solidarity and union with what I’m suffering right now. That Jesus you will fall in love with. That Jesus you will give your life for.” (theworkofthepeople.com)
Then I knew. It was like I was looking through microscope and I was only focussing all my attention on one part of the story. Jonathan Sacks in his book, Not in God’s Name writes “The Talmud records a striking passage in which the angels are portrayed as wishing to sing a song of triumph at the division of the Red Sea. God silences them with the words, ‘My creatures are drowning – and you wish to sing a song?’” (Jonathan Sacks, Not in God’s Name) So we too lament the terrible parts of this story. But we also need to zoom out and remember that God is with those who are most vulnerable in our communities. We need to remember why Moses was standing at the edge of the Red sea, staff in hand, like Gandalf not letting the Egyptians pass.
The Israelites came to Egypt seeking refuge from a famine. They were welcomed because Joseph who both listened for God’s voice and was a shrewd planner who saved the Egyptians from suffering during the famine. But then it changed. Exodus beings with these words, “Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and that whole generation. …Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land. Therefore they set task masters over them to oppress them with forced labour.” (Exodus 1:6, 8 - 12) By the end of the first chapter of Exodus, Pharaoh has told the midwives to kill all the boys. When I tell the Godly Play story it is described this way, “When they came to Egypt, the found food and work, but Pharaoh trapped them. They could not go home again. They had to do what the Pharaoh said. They had to live where Pharaoh said. They had to go to bed when Pharaoh said. They had to eat what Pharaoh said. They had to do the work that Pharaoh said. They had to do everything the Pharaoh said. They were slaves.” (The Complete Guide to Godly Play vol. 2 page 69)
It was a terrible time for the Israelites. God called a leader, Moses, to lead the people to freedom. This was no easy job. Pharaoh did not want to lose his labour force. Ten plagues came and went and still Pharaoh would not let the people go. Moses would go and beg for his people’s freedom until finally the Pharaoh let them go. It says just before our reading for this morning, “When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; … The Egyptians pursed the Israelites, who going out boldly.” (Exodus 14: 5 – 6, 9)
They are terrified. Many cried out, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?” (Exodus 14:11) In the midst of the fear, God was there. The pillar of cloud was going before them and it followed them, at night a pillar of fire. When it seemed that there was no escaping the wrath of the Egyptians. Moses raised his hand and the waters were divided and they walked to freedom.
The journey was not easy. At many points along the way, the Israelites were not always sure which way to go. The same is true in our own lives. We do not know where to go or which way to turn or how to live. The good news for all of us is that God is with us in this moments –reminding us of mercy and compassion. The good news for our world is that God is with those who are most vulnerable. It is our calling as a people of faith to help make our community, our country and our world a safe place for all God’s people to live.
It sounds like a daunting task – changing the world. We do not do this work alone. God will guide us as we show mercy, act with kindness and show compassion for all those in need. Together, by God’s grace we can help shape a future when the most vulnerable in our community are cared for. Thanks be to God. Amen.