Crossing the Red Sea

The Reckoning

13th Sunday After Pentecost

Exodus 14: 19-31
Psalm 114
Romans 14: 1-12
Matthew 18: 21-35

Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life, admits to her admiration of those who understand “the risk of prayer.” She describes the tearful, sorrowful response of two faithful Jews leaving each day to engage in the always dangerous practice of prayer, not knowing if they would survive the experience to return to their families. It is this same risk we undertake when we host scripture, actually seeking to encounter a Word from the God whose fury can consume like stubble, whose answer to our “Here I am” will not leave us untransformed. And so we come to the collision of these texts with this time, just over half way through the season after Pentecost, when the church is called to full participation in what God is up to in the world so loved (how goes that with all you all?).

In the Revised Common Lectionary our continuous reading at this point through the book of Exodus brings us this coming Sunday to the pivotal, defining story of the crossing of the Red (or Reed) Sea. No doubt, however, many in our congregations may be more aware that this Sunday also brings us exactly ten years from the deliberate destruction of the Twin Towers in New York, the loss of 3000 lives and the continuing ripple effects from that event. Yet, hosting scripture invites us to view the world through the lens it offers, much as we might graciously listen and reflect upon the stories and views offered by a guest at our dinner table, strange as that guest and what they offer as truth might be to us and so it is to the texts we must first turn.

A careful reader of the text from Exodus, including what has come before it and what comes after, will discover that the primary actor here is the LORD, YHWH. After securing the Israelites’ release from slavery by the Egyptians with the killing of all the Egyptian firstborn, YHWH leads the Israelites in a seemingly aimless yet very deliberate journey to camp opposite Baal-zephon, by the sea. It is YHWH who hardens the heart of Pharaoh to chase after the fleeing Israelites, effectively trapping them between the Egyptian army and the sea. It is YHWH who provides the way forward for Israel, dividing the sea. It is YHWH who throws the Egyptian army into panic and who clogs the wheels of their chariots, extracting the desired confession from them as to just who is in control, a confession that even the Israelites have yet to offer. It is YHWH who releases the walls of water that drown and destroy the Egyptian army, leaving the Israelites, safe on the other shore, marveling at the jaw dropping work of YHWH and the evidence of the death of arrogance at their feet. Even the appointed psalm for the day and the song of Moses and Miriam make clear that what has taken place is due to the effort of YHWH, before whom Psalm 114 calls us to tremble. The will of YHWH – to free the Israelites from oppressive slavery – against all odds, prevails.

All this is not to say that Israel is action less. It is Israel’s potential action, to return to Egypt, that has YHWH leading them in a different direction despite there being a shorter route by way of the Philistines (Ex.13:17-18). It is Israel’s hesitancy to take action at the edge of the divided waters that has YHWH impatiently instructing Moses to get the people going. Our collective action, or lack of action, seems to be of the kind more likely to thwart YHWH’s will than fulfill it. No wonder Jesus has us daily praying, “Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.”

YHWH’s will, as revealed in this text, is to take the side of the oppressed, to free Israel from its bondage of slavery. Pushed through the waters to new life, Israel is now free. But they are not free to themselves. They are freed for covenant relationship with YHWH. Three days later at Marah, after making bitter water sweet, YHWH makes for Israel an ordinance that “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the LORD who heals you.” (Ex.15:26) (it is sobering to note that none of those who cross the Red Sea survive to cross into the promised land). To be made free to themselves, as we later see in the making of the golden calf and what ultimately led up to the exile, would be to make them free only to death. We are given the freedom to choose life or death and the choice for life, seen through the biblical lens, is to align our will with the will of God.

It is the steadfast love of YHWH that will not let deathly ways be the end of the Israelites, nor ultimately the end of the world. The jaw dropping work of YHWH in Christ Jesus, crucified on a cross and resurrected from the dead, is for everyone, no matter what our nationality or even our current state of biological existence as Paul says in the letter to the church of Rome: “For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” The call to live and die to the Lord is now made to all, with all of us at the reckoning standing on the same ground of outlandish mercy, so vividly portrayed by Jesus’ kingdom comparison in the text from Matthew 18. Surely it is the work of the church to share this good news with all those who have not heard it and to carefully, humbly and faithfully discern and practice what is the will of God in this time and place. We have been saved, we have been warned, we are loved. Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God, that every knee shall bow and every tongue shall give praise to God.

One Response to “The Reckoning”

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  1. Lorraine says:

    Amen sister, amen & what a joy to know all is in God’s hands.

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