Unforgettable [Exodus 13]
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Unforgettable [Exodus 13]
One summer night during a severe thunderstorm a mother was tucking her small son into bed. She was about to turn the light off when he asked in a trembling voice, “Mommy, will you stay with me all night?” Smiling, the mother gave him a warm, reassuring hug and said tenderly, “I can’t dear. I have to sleep in Daddy’s room.” A long silence followed. At last it was broken by a shaky voice saying, “The big sissy!” [laugh]. Today is the final sermon in a series about the nation of Israel traveling into and then back out of slavery. This is kind of the epic finale of everything they’ve been going through. And if I think back to the beginning of this story, back to Joseph and his brothers selling him into slavery in Egypt 430 years before our story today – this really is just one big narrative of people going through incredibly difficult times, and God sticking with them through every trial. Now personally, I’ve never dealt with slavery in my life, but the core message of God sticking with us through every struggle – this was a truth I needed to hear, and I think it could change your life too. So let’s dive in.
First let’s center ourselves in the story a little bit. The nation of Israel is finally leaving Egypt. God has performed the 10 plagues, Pharoah said get out, God told them all about the rituals and traditions they will have to remember the story for generations. Last week we saw that God took them off the main road, and along the path of the wilderness. Chapter 14 opens up and God has plopped the Israelites down right outside a place called Migdol. They set up camp right next to the Red Sea. And then in verse 5, [read it.] This has happened with almost every single plague. It gets bad, Pharaoah says, “okay, I’ll let you go.” Plague goes away, Pharaoh changes his mind. But THIS time, it’s too late. Israel’s gone. They gathered up their stuff quick and got out of dodge. So now that they are gone, Pharoah and his buddies are sitting there wondering, “wait, a minute – does that mean we have to clean up our OWN STUFF? Yuck! What do you mean they’re gone? We released them from serving us? That was a terrible idea, why did we do that – let’s go get them back.” So Pharaoh gathers up his chariots and his soldiers and they rush out to catch up with the Israelites. [read v.9-10].
Pharoah catches up to the Israelites exactly where God said they would be, and the Israelites lose their minds. They are terrified! They immediately cry out to God and start whining to Moses, [read v.11-12]. Okay, now there’s something really key here I want you to catch. On the one hand – I think Israel has a totally legitimate reason to be scared. Pharoah and the Egyptians basically represent death and oppression and all sorts of terrible things. It totally makes sense that they would be terrified – those guys have been in complete control for generations, for literally centuries. But on the other hand, Israel gets so scared they wish they were back in slavery! They say, “what – were there not enough holes in the ground for us to have graves in Egypt? You brought us out here to die – we KNEW we should have never listened to you and just stayed happy in our slavery.” They literally say those words out of their face to Moses, “it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians.”
Now here’s the thing – I am tempted to make fun of the Israelites. Because they’re being stupid. Obviously God has done such incredible things, he has brought them out of slavery – they are headed to freedom. And they get a little scared and they want to go back to slavery. I think the biggest emotion I have when I read that is scorn. You want to go back to slavery and oppression? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. But then I think about how all of us do that in our lives. If you’ve ever talked to a woman who is in an abusive relationship – and you wonder, why didn’t you get out sooner? Why don’t you run away? And it’s because sometimes the devil you know is not as scary as an unknown future. You want to run away, but then where will your children sleep? Where will your next meal come from? To trust in God, to take that leap of faith – so many of us look at the trust required to follow God and we start to tell ourselves, well – maybe my slavery wasn’t so bad. I think sin can be an abuser in our lives. When we look at our lives, and we think, “Oh man, I shouldn’t be doing this. I need to stop, I need to get this sin out of my life.” And then calculate what it would take to make a change – it’s easier to rationalize and make ourselves feel better about our slavery than it is to trust and follow God.
E. Stanley Jones once said, “I am inwardly fashioned for faith, not for fear. Fear is not my native land; faith is. I am so made that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life; faith is the oil. I live better by faith and confidence than by fear, doubt, and anxiety. In anxiety and worry, my being is gasping for breath – this is not my native air. But in faith and confidence, I breathe freely – that’s my native air. A John Hopkins University doctor says, “We do not know why it is that worriers die sooner than the non-worriers, but that is a fact. But I, who am simple of mind, think I know; We are inwardly constructed in nerve and tissue, brain cell and soul, for faith and not for fear. God made us that way. To live by worry is to live against reality.”
There are two key themes I have for you today. You see it stamped all over this story. First – the danger is real, Israel had very good reasons to be afraid. It is close and threatening and real. It actually totally makes sense that they panic and keep reaching back to their familiar slavery. Pharaoh is coming, they’re trapped up against the sea, the chariots are pressing down on them. The danger is real. And this applies into our personal lives too. There’s a lot of danger in our world, and that danger is real. But the second piece, that you’ll see in the rest of the story, is that you are never safer than when you are in God’s arms.
Israel is terrified, but Moses says, [read v.13-14]. *laugh* Okay, so God’s about to do some awesome action hero type stuff, but I love that Moses just had to get that last little note in there. The Lord will fight for you, and you MUST be quiet. This actually is the beginning of a grand tradition for Moses of telling the Israelites to shut up. Quit your…umm, worrying. Right, like Moses is looking around and he’s like, “Guys, we’ve got like 6 main characters sitting right here – we’re probably going to be fine. It’s not the Red Wedding, okay?” The Lord will fight for you, and you must be quiet. And then the big scene begins.
God tells the Israelites – okay, break camp. Moses, lift the staff up and stretch out your hand over the Red Sea. The waters divide and the Israelites begin to travel across the sea on the dry ground. Then [read v.19-20] So the angel of the Lord, the pillar of cloud that was guiding them moves to the rear-guard to protect them. Blocks Pharoah, gives them time to cross on the dry ground. [read v.21-22]. Two quick things. Fun fact, did you know that this passage is where our District gets its name? This United Methodist Church is part of the East Winds District, and that comes from the story of Moses parting the Red Sea. The other thing is that I want you to imagine walking through the Red Sea. It’s crazy that they’re walking on dry ground, but it literally describes a wall of water. Like you could reach out and touch the water on the left and the right. A tunnel held up by nothing, except some wind and the power of God. I remember I took my kids to the Detroit Zoo a while back. And we went into the polar bear exhibit. Have you ever been to that? They have this tunnel that goes through the water, and it’s so cool because if you’re lucky you can actually see the polar bear swim overhead. And I remember the last time we went, the older boys had been before – so they were pumped, but Ezra was very leery. He stood in the entranceway and just sort of peeked out into the tunnel. What is happening here? I had to carry him through the tunnel, because it was so terrifying. All that water and sunlight and bears – just on the other side of some glass over his head. I can’t imagine how incredible and scary and awesome and frightening that whole process must have been for the Israelites.
Then the Egyptians set off in pursuit. Pharoah’s horses, chariots, everybody followed Israel into the red sea. But it says, [read v.24-25]. The danger was real, the chariots were coming, the wall holding back the power of the water on the left and right side. The danger was real, but Israel was never safer. God fought for them. It finishes up, [read v.29-31]. What I want you to see is that all of this was God’s action. God guided them, protected them, literally fought for them. The danger was real – it was close and threatening and terrifying, but they were never safer than when they were in God’s hands. And the same is true in our lives.
The goods news just screaming to me off the page this morning is that God will lead you through your troubles. God does not lead you around your troubles. He does not lead you over it, or away from it. He leads you THROUGH it. There’s an old quote, nobody knows who said it – but it’s brilliant. It says, “Sometimes the Lord calms the storm. Sometimes he lets the storm rage and calms his child.” I can’t promise you that you will never have troubles. I can’t promise you sunny days and mountain tops. In fact I’m going to promise you the opposite! There are days when the storm will rage, and God doesn’t turn it off. Sometimes you will walk in the valley of the shadow of death. Sometimes you will be totally overwhelmed and it will feel like your troubles, the sin in your life is like a wall of water on the left and on the right side. Terrifying and pressing in on you. That’s real. And anybody trying to tell you differently is selling you a false Christianity. But what I can promise you is that God will lead you through it. You might get wet, but God will lead you through your Red Sea. He may not calm the storm, but he will calm his beloved child – you.
There’s two things I want you to do with this truth today. Two challenges that I have for you that applies to your life. First, leave it in God’s hands. In our lives, when we grab for control – your fears will only be amplified. This is something God has been teaching me a lot lately. I think about the future and there’s a lot of unknowns. And it makes me want to grab for control. But if you want to have faith instead of fear, it starts with trusting God. Leave it in God’s hands. It doesn’t mean you’re not scared. You can be scared and still have faith. I think about those who are grieving with us for All Saints today. You can be scared of the future and still have faith. I know the Israelites were scared when they walked through the red sea. There’s a story about a World War II general named General George Patton in Sicily. One day he met with a high ranking military governor. And the governor praised Patton for his courage and his bravery. You are amazing he said. But General Patton said, “Sir, I am not a brave man. The truth is, I am an utter craven coward. I have never been within the sound of gunshot or in sight of battle in my whole life that I wasn’t so scared that I had sweat in the palms of my hands.” He said in his book, “I just learned very early in my life never to take counsel of my fears.” Having fears doesn’t mean you can’t have faith. The phrase is not faith INSTEAD OF fear. It’s faith OVER fear. We all have moments when we are scared, walking through that tunnel with a wall of water right next to us and the danger is real – but if you leave it in God’s hands you have never been safer than when you are in God’s arms. My first challenge, leave it in God’s hands.
MY second challenge to you is to walk through the waters. Trusting in God’s power, trusting in God’s sovereignty does not mean he’s going to carry us. God fights for us, but Israel walked on that dry ground. There is still agency, there is still free will and responsibility. You need to do your part in the faith journey! God’s got this, but you need to walk through the waters on the dry ground. Trust God, leave it in his hands and then take that first step forward.
They story of Israel into Egypt and back out again is not a story of smooth transitions or an always improving climb upwards. You might ask, well – what if things get worse? What if I take that step and I wind up feeling even more lost? Well – you’re in good company. That’s exactly what happened to Joseph. Tossed down a well, sold into slavery, put in prison. But every time, he trusted God and took that next step forward. The Nation of Israel did the same thing. Moses shows up, Israel has to make bricks without straw, plagues rain down, trapped at the edge of the red sea. There’s a lot of bad moments in the story, and I think in each of our lives there might be a lot of bad moments. There are going to be times when it feels like you’ve got pharoah’s chariots coming behind you, walls of water to the left and to the right – and in that moment I want to leave you with this. In that moment, all we must do, all we can do – is leave it in God’s hands, and take that step forward onto the dry ground. Amen.