First Lesson: Psalm 105:23-38
Children’ Story – Exodus 32:1-14 Sunday, August 30, 2015
We have been more or less camping in the book of Exodus for several weeks, and we’ve been following the story of that band of Hebrew slaves in Egypt. They were God’s people who didn’t know God. They had been slaves in Egypt for more than four hundred years and in that time they had forgotten who they were and who their God was. So God came to them in a great display of powerful miracles so that they see the mighty power of their God whom they didn’t know. And so that they could begin to understand that that their God loved them lavishly and cared for them exquisitely.
So picture this – it’s the picture we have from the book of Exodus. There are about two million Hebrews living in Egypt. Six hundred thousand men plus women and children. About the population of Houston, Texas. They are slaves there, brutally oppressed and desperately unhappy. One night their slave masters woke up at midnight to discover that the first born children in every family and even the first born of all their animals had died. Suddenly. In the night. With no warning at all. It was the last in a whole string of mighty acts of God on behalf of the Hebrew people, and the Egyptians realized that and they were afraid for their own lives. They wailed. The entire country wailed. They swarmed into the homes of their slaves in the middle of the night and demanded that they leave. They loaded the Hebrews down with gold and silver and precious jewelry of every kind and shoved them out of the country. Those slaves grabbed their children and their walking sticks and their bundles and their bread which hadn’t had time to rise and they ran out of the country, into the middle of the desert in the middle of the night. With Moses as their leader.
Can you begin to imagine the chaos of that night?
That was Their First Great Escape.
But once they were out in the desert, how in the world did those former slaves knew where to go? And I don’t suppose that Moses knew where to go, either. Simple shepherd that he was. But God had a plan for that. God went ahead of them in a cloud - a cloud that was bright and shiny by day and fiery by night. That cloud moving ahead in the vast Egyptian dessert – and a huge band of two million former slaves with all their children and all their animals following it. For about seventy miles they traveled that way. Day and night. A bright cloud by day and a cloud of fire at night.
When they reached a place called Baal-Zephon they stopped. Right where the Suez Canal is these days. With the deep dessert behind them and the Red Sea in front of them. They set up camp, wondering all the while to themselves how in the world they would cross that sea. And about the time they were sending the kids off to find firewood and beginning to settle down for the night, king Pharaoh back in Egypt was in a panic. It started to sink in that he had just allowed all of his work force to leave the country. The entire economic base of his entire country had high-tailed it off into the desert. He said to his officials, “What in the world have we done to allow this to happen?” So the king got on his horse, and ordered up 600 of his finest chariots and the rest of his fleet of chariots and all his horses and all of his most skillful horsemen – the entire Egyptian army – and took out after them. Seventy miles into the dessert. They came swooping down on the band of former slaves camped there by the sea. Ready to take them all back into slavery.
That band of former slaves took one look at their king and all his finest horses and finest chariots and finest charioteers and the entire Egyptian army coming after them and they were sure they would all die or be captured. Sitting ducks there with the dessert and the king and his chariots and his entire army coming at them from behind and the sea in front of them and no way to cross the water. They were frightened and furious at God and at Moses. They told them both loudly that they wished they had never left Egypt and that being slaves in Egypt was better than dying in a dessert. The first of many times they would say those words to God and Moses.
But God had other plans that night. That fiery cloud moved. It moved from in front of the camp to behind the camp, between the Hebrews and the king and his army. And that fiery cloud protected God’s people all night long. AND all night long a strong wind blew, and it blew the waters of that sea until they stood up with a wall of water on one side and a wall of water on the other side of the see. With a dry path between. And the next morning God’s people walked straight through the sea on that path with a wall of water on one side and a wall of water on the other side. Straight through to the other side.
But when the king and all his chariots and all his horses and all his soldiers tried it, the water started to seep back to its natural place. The wheels of their chariots got clogged in the mud, and there was a great panic as they tried to escape. And the last those former slaves saw of their king and all his army were their dead bodies on the sea shore.
It was their Second Great Escape. And they celebrated it and danced and sang on the opposite shore of the sea.
But not for very long, as you know. Before you know it, they were complaining again to God and Moses. They didn’t trust Moses. They didn’t trust the God they were just beginning to know. They muttered and complained and shouted at Moses and at God until Moses was weary of it all – and furious - and so was God.
And now this: I have heard this story from the time I was a small child, and so have many of you. And for all the years of my life until a couple of days ago, I have been critical of those slaves. I have wondered how in the world they could be so angry at God and so angry at Moses. I have said to myself, “they saw the great displays of God’s power for them. And still they d and complained and were angry and fearful and still they didn’t trust God’s goodness in their lives. How could that do that?” I have said that to myself, and most of the adults around me have said that, too. We’ve been pretty hard on those slaves there by the Red Sea.
But I’ve had a few years to live and I’ve had a few years to know myself and be honest with myself and now I’m a little more forgiving of that motley band of former slaves. Because I have heard the stories of the faithfulness of God all of my life, and I sometimes I still don’t trust. I lived all of my life in the love and care of God and I still don’t always trust God for the future. And maybe you are like that too, a little bit.
I gave you an assignment a couple of weeks ago now to track the goodness of God in your life. To notice the love and leading and power and promises of God in your lives just when things were the most difficult for you. Maybe you have done that little assignment.
Sometimes it is hard for us to leave the past no matter how painful it has been, and it is hard to venture into an unknown future. Sometime we can’t see the bright cloud ahead of us, leading us, and we’d rather stay in the dark places we know. Sometimes we don’t see the love and leading and power and promises of God for us and we are afraid to move ahead. Sometimes we are so immobilized by our fear that we cannot trust God’s leading in our lives. We cannot trust ourselves and those we love into God’s care. Sometimes we cannot feel the love of God even when we’re all wrapped up in it. Maybe you noticed that about yourself.
And as I was pondering and praying all of that this week I got an email from one of you.
I had sent a message to one of you who is facing some uncertain times. And there response came back – quickly – and I’m quoting it here: “God is my guide. He has brought me this far and will not abandon me now. This I believe.”
Beloved Congregation of Jesus Christ: That is the word of God to us this morning.