The boy said, "Well, the Israelites got out of Egypt, but Pharaoh and his army chased after them. So the Jews ran as fast as they could until they got to the Red Sea. So Moses got on his walkie-talkie and told the Israeli Air Force to bomb the Egyptians. Meanwhile, the Israeli navy built pontoon bridges across the so that the people could walk over safely..." At which point the father interrupted.
"Um, son, is THAT what they taught you?" The boy replied sheepishly, "Well, no, but if I told you what my Sunday School teacher said you'd never believe it!"
Miracles. Hard to believe sometimes...especially when entire seas are parted and armies are swallowed whole. It's easy to get caught up in details and being a spectator of the story; however, this story invites us to look more closely and see ourselves standing at the Red Sea, too.
The story starts in a test of Glory. Pharaoh is concerned about his glory. What will the Hittites think? What will my own people think if I let these people go? Who is this Moses and rabble of slaves that I, Pharaoh should even listen to them?
God has chosen to make this story a testament throughout the ages for his glory as well. The Exodus story will be the central theme of Jewish theology and later even Christian theology. So it's a battle of two forces competing for the Hebrew slaves....
Yet, it's also a Cosmic battle of Good vs. Evil. If Pharaoh wins, what does that say about God? If Evil triumphs does that not justify slavery, oppression, and brutality? If Evil were to win when Good has put all its chips in, then the stability of life, the universe, and everything is upset.
Make no mistake this story is so powerful because it plays out every day in our lives. Will we stay as slaves to Pharaoh, or will we trust God to lead us to a new, promised land?
When the Israelites see the Egyptian chariots, they begin crying out to God. I think most of us would, too. The Hebrew word for chariot is Merkhava. That is also the name of the Israeli main battle tank. Aptly named, they are equivalents for their respective times. Imagine fleeing on foot and seeing a division of M1A1 Abrams tanks coming after you!?! In this moment the story begins to really focus on trust.
Who do we trust? Do we trust God? Do we trust God when things are hard? Do we trust God when life is in turmoil? Do we REALLY trust God when Pharaoh's chariots are bearing down on us? Too often, we react in difficult times the same way the Israelites do...we blame.
Moses, it's your fault. Moses, we told you that we didn't want to come. We wanted to stay in Egypt! It'd be better to be a slave in Egypt than free and die! Umm...do they really mean that!?! Maybe, a better question is do we? Husband to wife, "It's your fault I had the affair." "I wish I were never born!" Driver to passenger, "I told you we shouldn't have been speeding."
Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, when confronted with our fears and shame, we tend to blame. "She made me eat it." "The snake told me to." "SSSSS." (roughly translated as it was the donkey's fault).
Paralyzed in fear, they cry out, but Moses basically says, "Sit back and watch God." And, while we expect Moses to have the right answer, he so often doesn't. He doesn't here either.
Karl Marx once said that religion was the opiate of the masses. Contrary to what you might expect, I agree. Far too often, religion is been used as a way to pacify and stupify the crowds. It can me used to make people feel good about themselves. It can be a social affair, chic, and erudite. A politician, king, or pastor can weave spells with religious sounding words that sound and feel good.
That's the last thing we need or that God wants for us. We don't need a faith that dulls our intelligence or minds. The true disciples of Jesus aren't drugged into a stupor; rather, we're quite caffeinated. Our faith should unsettle us. It should convict us. It should motivate us to energy and action. Our faith should inspire the courage to topple empires and confront Pharaohs. The Christian life only comes caffeinated!
Moses wanted to sit back and let God do it all, but God has called us to Covenant. In a covenant, there are two parties acting, and we have our part, too.
When the Israelites are standing back crying out, God says, "Mah titsaq alay?" Why are you crying out!?! Then he says, "Get moving!!!!" The life of faith is one of pray AND action. God loves hearing our prayers. God enjoys our conversations with him...But, many of the things we pray for we have a direct role to play.
"God help our marriage." That requires me to be a good husband. "God help our finances." That requires me to be a good steward. "God bring peace to earth." Requires me to have and offer peace from my own life. "God forgive me," also requires me to forgive myself...and others.
The life of faith is a balance of trusting God for everything AND moving in action to fulfill our end of the covenant. Abraham Joshua Herschel said we shouldn't be taking leaps of faith; rather we should be taking leaps of action. Rabbi Michael Siegel called this the "amen of action." His sermon on this topic is extraodinary.
I quote him now:
The stories of our lives may not be as dramatic as the splitting of the
sea...But that does not mean that God is any less concerned about us than the
people of Moses' time. [Brothers and Sisters], God's words to Moses
continue to echo throughout the generations into our own time. Mah titsaq
alay...Why do you cry out to me? Get moving!
Let's head out to the Promised Land.