Sermon Archives

When the Waves Come Crashing Down ~ Exodus 14:19-31

Nice text, huh? I love this text – great, great text. You know, every Wednesday morning, at 7:30 a.m.,  a few hardy souls gather for “Bible and Bagels.” It is not so much a bible study as a bible free-for-all: The folks around the table represent a wide variety of theological perspectives and opinions. We wrestle with the text, and sometimes we wrestle with each other (verbally), and then with 15 minutes or so to go, I ask. “So what?” “What is your take away?”

I wish this morning, we could engage in a Bible and Bagels disucssion of this text. Although it would be rather difficult with 250 people, I would love to know what you noticed, or what caught your attention, and where your tension is in this text.

This narrative is rich and layered even though it is a simple, marvelous story of a miraculous save of the recently liberated Israelites under the leadership of Moses. The mighty Egyptian army is decimated; corpses lying on the shore and in the surf. The oppressor smashed and the oppressed set free – Hallelujah….Except that there is more, much more.

There is context and history here and there is a history of interpretation that needs to be unpacked a little bit, lest we miss the larger and deeper agitation.

So, what is the story behind the story? The scripture that is before us is an interpreted memory written long after the event. When Moses was leading the people on the Exodus there was no Israel and hence no Israelites. It was a band of people on the run. We read that the angel of God was going before the Israelite army.

But what army? There was no army – it was women and children, men, slaves set free with nothing more than their staffs, their sandals, and their girded loins. Maybe later there was an army. Maybe during the time of David and Solomon when there really was an Israel and an Israeli army – or maybe during the exile in Babylon when the psalmists wept by the rivers as they remembered Zion and the days when it seemed as if God really was on their side.

What we remember, how we remember, when we remember means everything to our identity.

I wonder how an Egyptian feels about this story? There is no historical evidence from Egyptian history of an exodus, or a disaster on the seaside.

Sorry if this shakes you up, but we are not doing justice to the text or to the truth of the text if we cover up what is literally in the text.

I find it hard to read this text in light of the present madness in the Middle East. Where everyone seems to claim that God is on their side!

As we remember the horror when the walls of the Twin Towers came crashing down on 9/11 thirteen years ago – knowing the radical terrorists believed God was on their side.

To many in the world WE, the United States, are the Egyptians.

But I suspect that black South Africans resonate with this tale – as the oppressive apartheid regime came crashing down! Who thought that would ever happen? Or the students in Berlin who sledgehammered the wall. Or slaves when the emancipation proclamation was delivered – oh look what God is doing now!

Or perhaps anytime you feel as if you are on the run – trying to escape whatever oppresses you; heading into an unknown land of complete risk and newness; your past creeping on you, coming closer, wanting you back!

The abused wife punched in an elevator, the one struggling to break free of addictions … on the shore.

The student with the new idea that shatters something old and oppressive,
The coming clean and coming out – THIS is who I am – I am not returning to slavery; I will make my stand here!

And sometimes, the glorious happens – it really happens, you are set free and the past lies shattered and the impossible occurs – and you stand on the shore line a few miles past slavery and a whole lot of miles before you – and this one moment becomes real… and for those of faith, those willing to take the leap into trust, those who have a vocabulary: what else can you say but: “Thank you! Thank you God!”

Remember these times and describe them any way you want to – it will make a huge difference when you are back in the wilderness and need to stay strong.

So this story is true, it describes reality even though it is an interpreted memory of a people stuck somewhere between slavery and exile – still they remember the time when the miraculous happened and freedom came….

And perhaps that is a take away – for those of us pitched between hither and yon, caught in between – which is where we all are anyway… moving away from something and moving towards something else… we all had better stop every once a while and reconsider the past, and reclaim the faith that God abides, and God assists, and God is present, and God is good, and God liberates and God is ALWAYS on the side of the oppressed and has a grievance against those who oppress….

And it may take a while, it may take a long time – but nothing can keep God from reconciling everything (even Egyptians!) to her divine self.

This is our faith story, our collective narrative interpreted in light of another event that we call resurrection – the one who was dead – lives!

So when you think you have just been saved from the Egyptians – you had better give thanks… If you have a memory that shapes your present – that gives you reason to hope and move forward in conviction that there is something beyond that next mountain, or what looks like the impassable stream, or the impossible dream, even death – give thanks and do a dance…. Don’t forget it.

And I cannot end without sharing this: you should never read a passage of scripture without taking multiple perspectives.

When was I the oppressed Jew?
How am I am an oppressive Egyptian?
For how – in this wonderful land in which we live – can there be such disparity of resources?

How can there be – in a beautiful land of such abundance – children who hunger, and mothers who work three jobs, and young men with little future who, when they can – stick it to the man, to Pharaoh, to Egypt.

This is deep and wide and we are always stuck between “How long, O Lord?” and “Our God is an awesome God!”

And that leads to my last take away for you to consider, thankfully it is a bit lighter. Phew!

Our lives are complex, and memory is complicated and we do play all the roles, and live all the moments – that is why the bible is the living word – we get to play the parts – and look around.

And sometimes we are the victors and sometimes we are the loser. Sometimes we are the Egyptians and sometimes the Israelites. Sometimes our dreams are shattered and lying on the shore but sometimes we are triumphant.

And it reminds me of a Mary Chapin Carpenter song of several years ago entitled “The Bug.”
Well it’s a strange old game you learn it slow
One step forward and it’s back you go
You’re standing on the throttle
You’re standing on the brake
In the groove ’til you make a mistake

Sometimes you’re the windshield
Sometimes you’re the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re just a fool in love
Sometimes you’re the Louisville Slugger
Sometimes you’re the ball
Sometimes it all comes together
Sometimes you’re gonna lose it all

You gotta know happy – you gotta know glad
Because you’re gonna know lonely
And you’re gonna know sad
When you’re rippin’ and you’re ridin’
And you’re coming on strong
You start slippin’ and slidin’
And it all goes wrong

One day you got the glory and then you got none
One day you’re a diamond and then you’re a stone
Everything can change in the blink of an eye
So let the good times roll before we say goodbye because

Sometimes you’re the windshield
Sometimes you’re the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re just a fool in love
Sometimes you’re the Louisville Slugger
Sometimes you’re the ball
Sometimes it all comes together
Sometimes you’re gonna lose it all

Sometimes you’re the windshield
Sometimes you’re the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re just a fool in love

Well, God is a fool in love with you – willing to trudge the wilderness, standing beside the ruins, and rejoicing during those amazing times when the waters part and you walk through and find yourself safe on the other side.

So don’t forget to say thank you!