Saturday, September 16, 2023

Pentecost 16A

Psalm 103:8
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding
in steadfast love.
Psalm 103:8

Exodus 14:13-31

13 But Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still."

15 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. 16 But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground.

17 Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers."

19 The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20 It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh's horses, chariots, and chariot drivers.

24 At the morning watch the Lord, in the pillar of fire and cloud, looked down on the Egyptian army and threw the Egyptian army into a panic. 25 He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, "Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt."

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers." 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

• My reflection for Pentecost 3 this past June relates to this one.

Central Stories

This is one of the required scriptures at the Easter Vigil when we recite and reenact the world's history with God who creates, redeems, and sustains. It's interesting placement that with Advent a little over two months away, today's first reading brings us Israel's primary narrative and experience of salvation.

When the exiles returned to Jerusalem from Babylon and compiled this Sunday's passage (as well as most of what we know as the Old Testament canon), they interwove more than one original source. The Exodus or departure event is so important that mentions of rescue from Egyptian slavery thread throughout the prophets and the New Testament scriptures. Israel's liberation from empire and its demands parallels Jesus Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension for Christians.

Identity Formation

However, the end of Egypt was far from the end of empire for Israel. Egypt may have been in their rearview mirror (it was), but Babylon, Persia, Rome, Spain, Great Britain, et al, waited in the wings.

You know about those forty sparse years in the hot, dry desert before Israel crossed the Jordan River into the land of promise. To paraphrase the late poet and songwriter Rich Mullins, "Israel and Yahweh rendezvoused in the desert," with the give and take, the questions, the conversations, the rebellions, that lead to reliable relationship. God's grace-filled gift of the Covenant at Sinai steered Israel toward the kind of concern for the neighbor that would let God's people remain free. As scripture explains, the "neighbor" or the other was not only the native-born, not simply the ethnic Israelite. Neighbor meant everyone.

The point in time physical departure from Egypt became the liberation story they told their children and their children's children, but identity as God's people was ongoing—always subject to increased understanding and better response.

Bringing History to Life

Serendipitously again this week, the one-word Five Minute Friday prompt fit Sunday's reading well. Riffing on escape I wrote:

Escape from slavery in Egypt as well as from death-dealing demands, outrages, excesses, and dehumanizations of the countless empires that hold us hostage. Escape from the worst of our own pasts—including wrongs we've done and sins committed against us. Escape from hopelessness and from those griefs that refuse to escape from us. Forgiveness unlocks the doors. Easter catapults us from past deaths into wide open futures.

Escape into dreaming and possibilities. For myself. For my community. For the world. "Redemption" is one of the theological words. God fights for us and literally redeems us. God buys back our life, re-establishes our identity. God frees us for service to our neighbors, to strangers, to family, to creation, and to ourselves.

Just as physically departing from Egypt was the start of Israel's identity journey, emerging from the waters of baptism is a central point in time and space for each of us and for the community that claims us. Then we journey still wet behind the ears, retelling the story, reenacting redemption in our current time and place.

In his Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, farmer and poet Wendell Berry offers a list of countercultural ways of being and acting. How about creating your own list of ways to practice resurrection as the last line of the poem reminds us?

Exodus 14:13-14
But Moses said to the people,
"Do not be afraid, stand firm,
and see the deliverance that the Lord
will accomplish for you today.
The Lord will fight for you, and you have
only to keep still." Exodus 14:13-14

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