Pastor David Clark sermon: The God Who Liberates
Exodus 14 September 7, 2014
It looked as if the Hebrew people were finally escaping Egypt. God had heard their cries sent Moses to Pharaoh demanding that the people be set free and every time Pharaoh refused there was a plague until Pharaoh said, “Scram.” Now they were free. For the first time in a long, long, time, they celebrated, danced, and laughed. They were traveling through the wilderness to avoid all of the Egyptian military check-posts—just in case that old Pharaoh changed his mind.
Sure enough Pharaoh’ heart hardened and he sent his army out to destroy every Hebrew. He was one of those people who could not stand losing, being wrong, having someone one-up him. Even though he had lost great resources and even lost his own son, he couldn’t stand to let it go. He had to have the last word. His arrogance and vanity got him and many other innocent people too. But he didn’t care. It was all about his personal agenda—no matter who suffered.
The Hebrews saw danger as they looked into the hills noticing more and more scouts. You can just feel the nervous glances people exchanged as they realized Pharaoh had sent the army. “O no. You don’t suppose . . . How long will take them to catch up to us?”
You can hear the voices of bitterness, “I knew I shouldn’t have believed in Moses. He was never really one of us, he grew up in the palace; this was all a trick to kill us all. There is no God.”
They cry, “Moses, how dare you give us hope. God? Please. Where is your invisible God now?
You did some neat tricks with your staff and made us believe that there was a God who was on our side, on the side of the oppressed, the side of the victims, the side of the weak. We wanted to believe that your God is stronger than all the powers of violence and oppression. I don’t see your invisible God; all I see are Pharaoh’s chariots and spears. And now we are trapped by the sea; we have no escape. What, Moses, were there not enough graves in Egypt that you had to drag us out here to die?”
They wonder how they could have let themselves be duped into believing in God. The hardest thing is to have your hopes crushed. You feel guilty about having hoped in the first place. We hope for something and when it doesn’t happen, we wonder why we were such fools.
- I wasted my time and energy and money in that loser. How could I have been so dumb to hope that he was on a different path and would change?
- I had hoped for that promotion, but I was passed over again—why did I believe them when they said next time is my time? I feel so stupid getting taken like that.
It’s tempting to turn on God when things don’t work out. When things don’t go like we want, we are just like those Hebrews our voices rise with bitterness. “God? How could I have allowed myself to hope, to believe, to think that things would have been different.
What do you do when you are so trapped, when you feel betrayed by God? What happens when you can identify with the Hebrews who were trapped between a past you can’t get back to and a future that ends in disaster? The Hebrews complained; so God asked Moses, “Why do they cry out?” God wants to know. Didn’t you see those wonders? What did you think that was about? Don’t you yet have faith? Ten time; ten wonders: water to blood, frogs, locusts, boils, Passover. Ten times and you think I’m going to leave you out here to die so that the story ends in tragedy? Ten times I displayed my intent but at the first hint of adversity you bail out on me!
That is the issue for us too isn’t it? We look around and see God’s wonders all the time—the glory of the night sky, the innocent face of a child. And we can feel great about that, but the next time we have something happening in our lives that makes us feel trapped, stuck, we cry out and feel like fools for having believed. And God wonders, “Why do you cry out this way?”
But these fears, these disappointments are what keep us from really believing, from really reaching out, from being giving people, from volunteering all that we could, from really participating in life. We want to hedge our bets. I’m not going to get my hopes up too high, just in case I get disappointed. Just in case I’m wrong. I was never a poker player, but I like those moments in the poker tournaments on TV when a player pushes all of her chips into the middle of the table declaring, “I’m all in.” How “in” are you with God? Have you pushed all of your hopes and dreams and things you value trusting that this way of peace, forgiveness, redemption, healing, grace and love into the center of the table? Or are you holding back on your commitment because you don’t want to seem foolish or just in case there isn’t a God.
We work out these ways of playing it both ways. Pharaoh, or the powers of this world will get our attention. We spend too much time at work and we buy into the way the world tells us we have to look and live. I have a good friend who dreamed of being a public defender. Stand up for the poor, the wrongly accused, those who don’t have resources to get justice. He went to law school, and now works for as a lawyer for a collection agency who puts liens against poor people’s houses. I asked him when he sold out. He said, “Dave, I didn’t sell out. I bought in.” I just hope that the price isn’t too high. We buy in too. We get caught up in the trappings, the machinery, the cars, technology computers palm pilots the gadgets and we lose perspective.
We participate in the stuff of the world, but then we put a foot in the church world, too. We will go to church, learn some stuff, sing the songs. But not really change much in our personal lives. Most of us will do just enough to feel blessed. But we’re not going to risk a downsize in living, or take controversial stands, or stick our necks out. It is much more comfortable in Egypt than to risk and lose it all.
The voices that rise from that valley are as much ours as the Hebrews’. Isn’t that what this is about, why this story is in the Bible, and why it is relevant to us?
In the valley, when it looks like there is no way, God comes through. Moses tells people to be still. Be still? What? Don’t you see the army? Wait upon God? But it’s the best advice. When it is all crumbling down, when you feel trapped, first thing you need to do is to stop. Be still. Quit panicking and take a moment to remember the God who has been with us ever since the sea crossing, the God who’s shown up more than 10 times for you, but millions of times and knows the number of hairs on your head. Stop freaking out and lean into faith—that’s what it’s for.
After the pause, Moses then says to move forward. No matter what the obstacle in front of you you need to step out in faith. I love the detail that the Hebrews had to step in the sea and get their feet wet before Moses struck the water with his staff and parted the water. Take that step, and discover that God makes a way out of no way. The wonders didn’t end at the Red Sea; God is still acting. Like the scriptures ask, “Do you not know? Have you not heard our God is an everlasting God?”
The water walled up and the people walked through but the technology of the army defeats itself. The wheels of the chariots get bogged down, the weight of the weapons slow them down and they ultimately are destroyed in the waters. There is a God who stands above any kingdom, or technology, or power of this earth. Where will we pledge our allegiance? In the trappings of the world, or in the God who enables us to pass on dry ground?
All of those voices that had risen up in protest on one side of the sea, began to sing and praise again on the other side of the sea. God had taken the side of the poor and the oppressed, the ones who cry out and acted decisively in human history to show that the ways of mercy, forgiveness, and treating each person as a person of infinite value and sacred worth win out over all powers. Pharaoh and his armies don’t stand a chance because God’s victory is over all powers that be.
There is a great old spiritual that comes from this story, Mary Don’t You Weep. The Mary in the song is Martha’s sister who was distraught and weeping before Jesus when her brother Lazarus died. The song recalls God’s acts of deliverance at the Red Sea declaring that God’s power is strong. Pharaoh’s army got drownded, O Mary don’t you weep no more. The spiritual read Exodus into the times of Mary and into their own times. As they sang the song in the fields under their slave masters, the slave masters thought, “O how nice, they are singing Bible songs.” But what they were really saying, “Keep your chin up. God’s power will ultimately prevail. God is on the side of the hurting. Pharaoh’s army got drownded. Don’t you weep, don’t you mourn.”
And after slavery ended but there still weren’t equal rights the Pete Seeger applied it to the Civil Rights movement as the Christian song of defiance, a song of hope, a song of faith. And after Hurricane Katrina hit Bruce Springsteen revived it to give hope for folks who were wiped out in the hardest hit wards.
Peace, be still. Wait for it. God is moving in our lives. In your life. That no matter what happens, God will not abandon you. Your faith is not in vain. God makes a way for us out of no way. Keep moving forward. Leave Egypt behind. Let it go. Know the new life, the new love, the new kingdom that has been prepared and promised for you.
O Mary don’t you weep no more.
O John don’t you mourn.
O Cindy don’t you weep no more.
O Howard don’t you mourn.
O Ralph don’t you weep
O church don’t you mourn.
Phaoaoh’s army got drownded. Amen.
Pastor David Clark sermon: The God who Liberates. Preached at Redlands United Church of Christ, Redlands, California. Former Iowa Pastor David Clark is now Senior Pastor of Redlands UCC.