Year A Proper 19 2008
One of the frustrations of reading through the Bible the way we do Sunday by Sunday is that we often, like this week, have three amazing, awe-inspiring and challenging readings and then don’t have time to address all of them in the sermon – or rather if I tried to, then we would be here for most of today, if not most of the next week and maybe beyond…
Not a great way to be remembered, as the Vicar that went on and on and on and on….
Which of course I am never guilty of – ahem.
So it falls to me to try and pick perhaps one theme or idea from these readings and use that!
The most vivid and powerful image comes from Exodus as we hear that story that so many of us know well, the crossing of the Red Sea by the people of Israel. If we really think about it it’s a bit of a shocker, the wiping out of a whole army by their being covered by the Red Sea. We recoil in horror at the images on our TVs and in the papers of genocide or ethnic cleansing – both in history and still going on today, but we often don’t think about the horror of some of the stories in our Bibles.
But if shows that the Bible is not a selection of abstract thoughts and sayings, but something rooted in the earthy, disturbing, hard and difficulty world we live in – stories from history, yes, but also stories which are very real and which speak today to a world still filled with violence, fear, slavery and freedom.
We can’t deny the brutality of some of our Biblical stories. We can’t pretend that some of what is explained as the will of God in our Scriptures doesn’t exist, and nor should be pretend that it doesn’t horrify or at least disturb us. The more we get to know our Bibles, the more we will see of people struggling to make sense of the world around – especially the darker and more difficult parts of the world. The Bible doesn’t seek to put a gloss on the world, but is the record of the struggle to bring meaning and understanding to painful and horrific events. It also celebrates those times which lead to freedom and hope, even when the events that surround that seem bloody and violent to our modern sensibilities. For these people, our ancestors in faith, the salvation from certain death that the drowning of the Egyptian army represented showed the power of a God who delivered on his promise of freedom. It was a miracle.
I’m not going to try and explain how the parting of the Sea might have been accomplished, using spurious science or a historical rewrite of geography to talk of the ‘Reed Sea’. Nor would I presume to try and explain away this miracle recorded in scripture! I think the important thing to remember when we allow this passage to speak to us, and allow ourselves to be challenged by it, is to think about the meaning behind it and, if you prefer the phrase, the ‘moral of the story’.
That’s not to dismiss the difficulties behind it, but to remind us that our Bibles were written from the perspective of ‘a bigger picture’ – of looking for God in every part of life, and of being honest about the highs and lows of this world and believing that God has some part in both. That’s not to say that God manipulates every event and every moment – if that were the case I would never have to wait for a bus again – but that God is involved, God cares about what happens, and God is with us in all things in life.
For the Children of Israel there had been and there would be many times of trial and difficulty alongside the moments of triumph and in those moments where they could see their dream of freedom and hope become more real they rejoiced.
In many ways the crossing of the Red Sea mentioned in this story for today is the turning point in the journey of the Israelites – it marks the move from slavery, and the threat of slavery, and freedom for the God’s chosen people. Having come to Egypt to be saved from famine they found that as their nation grew the Egyptians saw them as a threat and enslaved them. God’s blessing upon them seemed to have brought them only jealousy and hatred. The Exodus of the people from Egypt, under the leadership of Moses, was the moment where God’s promise to Abraham that his descendants would settle in a new, promised land, would finally come to be.
It was this that they remembered at the Red Sea. As God brought freedom from slavery, as God led them to safety from the threat of the Egyptian Army, as God rescued them from the potential genocide that Pharaoh’s troops would surely bring. That is why in Exodus 15 Miriam, Moses’ sister proclaims ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel…horse and rider he has thrown into the sea’. It’s not out a sense of delight in bloodshed, though there may have been some rejoicing in the fact that those who had oppressed and murdered the Hebrews for so long had received their ‘just desserts’, but Miriam’s declaration is a declaration of salvation, of freedom ‘The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation’ she sings.
God had done more for the Israelites than they could ever have imagined, and no matter how our eyes may look at it now, for the children of Israel it was the difference between life and death, between slavery and freedom. God had set them free!
And we too are those who have been set free. We too have had the chains of slavery broken by death – only this time it was not the death of an angry and hostile army, it was the death of the only sinless man this world has ever known. It was the death of the one who is God made flesh, the lamb of God. If we find the death of the Egyptian army unpleasant, we should find the death of Jesus Christ, the way in which he took our guilt, our sin, our death upon himself all the more offensive. It should inspire us to anger, to guilt, to despair, but more than that is should fill us with a deep sense of gratitude at the grace of God which made this possible. Blessed be the Lord God, for he has become our strength and salvation.
We have been set free through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and we should, we must live in such a way that shows that in our lives. If we truly allowed these scriptures to sink in, to affect us as the wonder and magnitude should affect us, then it would transform our attitudes to all that we do, to all that we have, to all that we are.
Though, of course, as I say week after week, it is the Spirit, the touch of God, that makes these stories real to us, that gives us the grace to realise all that these wonderful, disturbing, transforming scriptures mean and which inspires us to change and to live as those who are redeemed from slavery and bondage to sin and death, and to be those who can, with God’s help live lives of grace, of being forgiven and of forgiving others – even seventy times seven!
May the word of God dwell in us richly, and continue to make us the people that God calls us to be. Amen.