Exodus 14:10-14, 21-29
Cecil B. DeMille was right! At least right with his cinemagraphic depiction of the parting of the Red Sea from the movie, “The Ten Commandments”. And his pyrotechnics are outstanding! This is one OUT LOUD text and if you have ever seen this particular scene in the movie you know what I’m talking about.
Now I really didn’t think you’d appreciate me relying on silly old ‘hat tricks’ to preach to you today but really, the scene where Charlton Heston is parting the Red Sea waters is classic and irresistable! The scene opens with Charlton AKA Moses boldly proclaiming, “Fear NOT. Stand Still. The Lord is with you.” Then all sorts of supernatural things begin to happen.
Winds howl. Skies darken. Waters churn. Israelites cry out. Horses hooves pound the dry dirt and the Egyptians scream. One old man says in awe, “God opens the sea with a blast of his nostrils”, (just a little midrash on the text, midrash meaning an interpretation by the Rabbis to fill in some scriptural gaps), the sea parts, and the Israelites cross the bottom of the seabed dry shod. Not one bit of water or mud touches their blessed feet.
Then the camera pans back to the poor Egyptian army underwater, swirling around, gasping for air as the walls of the sea have advanced back to their normal state. Yul Brynner AKA Pharaoh grasps his bald head in anguish of his decimated army and says, ‘His God is God’, admitting defeat. But that was Hollywood!
Parting of the Red Sea, paper cut by Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik
Let us now hear scripture as it was remembered and recorded from the Book of Exodus the 14th chapter.
When the Israelites saw the king coming with his army, they were frightened and begged the Lord for help. They also complained to Moses, “Wasn’t there enough room in Egypt to bury us? Is that why you brought us out here to die in the desert? Why did you bring us out of Egypt anyway? While we were there, didn’t we tell you to leave us alone? We had rather be slaves in Egypt than die in this desert!”
But Moses answered, “Don’t be afraid! Be brave, and you will see the Lord save you today. These Egyptians will never bother you again. The Lord will fight for you, and you won’t have to do a thing.”
Moses stretched his arm over the sea, and the Lord sent a strong east wind that blew all night until there was dry land where the water had been. The sea opened up, and the Israelites walked through on dry land with a wall of water on each side.
The Egyptian chariots and cavalry went after them. But before daylight the Lord looked down at the Egyptian army from the fiery cloud and made them panic. Their chariot wheels got stuck, and it was hard for them to move. So the Egyptians said to one another, “Let’s leave these people alone! The Lord is on their side and is fighting against us.”
The Lord told Moses, “Stretch your arm toward the sea—the water will cover the Egyptians and their cavalry and chariots.” Moses stretched out his arm, and at daybreak the water rushed toward the Egyptians. They tried to run away, but the Lord drowned them in the sea. The water came and covered the chariots, the cavalry, and the whole Egyptian army that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them was left alive. But the sea had made a wall of water on each side of the Israelites; so they walked through on dry land.
Many things might be on your mind right now after hearing the piece of scripture. The first is probably the question of theodicy or God’s actions. Does God really take sides? Can God really be this cruel and unnerving? Remembering that this scripture was still revealing a tribal God – a God that did take sides or was claimed by one tribal nation, will help us understand the nature and context of the Exodus a bit more. This ‘God’, or a god, fighting on behalf of a people was common to many ancient mythologies, not only the Israelites.
And yet, we know that this thinking still exists in some form or another. Most radically we see it with ISIS who has taken theology to a level of evil and destruction. With God on their side they see fit to kill and mame in the name of religion.
So did the Christian Crusaders. But then we all think God is on our side when it comes to war.
Back in the 1960’s Bob Dylan wrote the anti-war song “With God on Our Side.” He carefully enumerated the wars that the US had been involved in somehow making it OK to kill by any means when God is on your side. He ends by saying ‘If God’s on our side He’ll stop the next war”, meaning, get real folks.
None of us are exempt from this thinking because when we use the Bible or the name of God to oppress, denigrate, shame or defame another person’s character we fall into the erroneous thinking that God is only on our side, and that God will or should bring calamitous ruin upon our enemies.
It is human nature, our greatest desire to have God on our side because who doesn’t want the divine in your corner rooting you on, carefully vetting you above the rest.
If we adopt this type of theology we would be living and interpreting text with very old and worn out eyes, and this leads us away from the Gospel message of inclusivity and forgiveness.
Although we cannot possibly speak on God’s behalf with any certainty, we, as humans with good intention have to figure out what good can be done in this world, what good will be done in this community. When ‘God’s words’ come out of our mouths they are shaped by what we hold dear within our hearts and what we believe in. [i]
Hopefully what we hold dear are the enduring human virtues of compassion, courage, forgiveness, generosity, love, trust and understanding. And to this end we should strive to live our lives and understand that perhaps this is what would please God the most because.
Our God is a God of inclusivity, we don’t know how many covenants God has made out there, all we know is the one God made with us and that is Jesus Christ who we know practiced a way of life that promoted justice for all persons; a radical hospitality that says there is room for all at the table. This is the kind of divine love that I want on my side. How about you?
Amen and just for fun.......