A sermon I shared with my church community…
This week is week 3 of our series on Moses. So far we’ve looked at hearing from God, in the story of Moses and the burning bush, and last week we looked at a God who rescues, in the story of the first Passover. This week’s theme is ‘God guides’.
So what do you think it means to guide someone, or be guided yourself? If I were to put this on now as a blindfold and ask someone to guide me around on a tour of the church, what do you think I would expect the guide to do?
I’d like to think that they would make sure I knew where to go, be that either by using their words, or maybe they might take my arm and lead me. I’d like to think that they’d make sure the path was clear, that if say there were hymn books lying on the floor, that they might move them out of the way so that there was no danger that I’d trip on them. And I’d like to think that they would try to just keep me safe in general, that say if there was someone else who thought it might be funny to stick their leg out to try to trip me as I walked down the aisle, that my guide would deal with that danger, be it taking me another route, or maybe they might walk down that side of the aisle and act as a barrier between me and the danger.
In the Bible passages preceding that which was read tonight (Exodus 14:19-31) God is leading the Israelites out of Egypt. “By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light.” (Exodus 13:21) God showed his people the way and led them, and “Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people”. (Exodus 13:22)
Can you imagine it? Giant pillars of cloud, from the ground to above the height of this roof. And I imagine it not just as a bit of a fog, like when someone has gotten a bit excited with their smoke machine. I imagine as a bit thick white fluffy cuddly tower, defined in shape and limits, and such that you can’t see through it, that there’s no way you can ignore it or pretend that you can’t see it. I imagine that it could actually be quite a comforting sight.
After the Israelites had been walking and been guided by God for some time, the Egyptians were their usual indecisive selves that they seem to be in Exodus, and decide that letting the Israelites go was a mistake, and chase after them. The Israelites see the danger coming and panic. Moses’ response to them? “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today…The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14) In other words, Moses was saying to them, “Just calm down a minute, be a little bit patient and watch to see what happens. God’s got this!!” With my blindfold analogy, what do you think my guide might do if I started to panic?? I think, or at least I hope, that they would be like, “Calm down, I’m right here guiding you and I’ve got this.” And in reality, if I’m blindfolded to trust my guide is probably my best option. To panic and decide that I’m going to do my own thing, regardless of what my guide is telling me will probably not end for the best!
And then that’s where tonight’s reading starts. “The pillar of cloud that had been traveling in front of Israel’s army withdrew and went behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel.” God knew the danger was there, and like my guide who might act as a barrier if someone was sticking their leg out to try to trip me, God went between the Israelites and the Egyptians.
So so far we’ve had God guiding his people by showing them where to go by leading the way, and then he’s put himself between them and danger. God’s next action? To clear the path in front of his people. Moses put his hand out over the sea, and God blew a strong wind to drive the waters back, leaving a safe, dry, clear path. And as the people walked through there was a wall of water on their right, and a wall of water on their left. Some people have proposed that this drying of the sea bed is a natural phenomenon. But you know what? Even if it can be scientifically explained, it’s still significant because of the timing, it happened in God’s timing, God’s guiding hand played a role.
But what are we meant to do if we feel like we aren’t being guided? What if it feels like all the doors in our life are shut? Or what if the doors are all open and we don’t know which to pick? What if where we are at just seems to be full of danger, or we are standing on the sea shore, knowing that we can’t go backwards but God isn’t parting the waters for us.
In the song Trust in You, by Lauren Daigle, are the following lyrics:
When You don’t move the mountains
I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You
I will trust in You, I will trust in God. What was Moses’ response to the people when they panicked at seeing the Egyptians following them? “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today…The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.”
You need only be still. One commentator described it like this:
Moses told the people of Israel to stop. This is often the Lord’s direction to the believer in a time of crisis. Despair will cast you down, keeping you from standing. Fear will tell you to retreat. Impatience will tell you to do something now. Presumption will tell you to jump into the Red Sea before it is parted. Yet as God told Israel He often tells us to simply stand still and hold your peace as He reveals His plan.
And God did reveal the plan to the Israelites. He parted the waters, let them walk through, and then let waters crash onto the Egyptians. God guided the Israelites to safety.
And what will be on the other side of the sea? Joy. While joy can still be found this side of the sea, there is cause for joyous celebration at what the Lord has done once crossing is complete. In Exodus 15, the chapter after tonight’s reading, it is filled with songs and singing. First Moses and the Israelites sing to the Lord, “The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” (Exodus 15:2) And then Miriam, Aaron’s sister, takes a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. They sing, “Sing to the Lord for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.” (paraphrase vv.20-21) It is a joyous occasion when we see the fulfillment of God’s plans.
God has plans and God guides us. Sure, we’re probably not going to get a cloud tower to leads us, and sometimes it will feel like there is a blindfold on and there isn’t anyone there guiding us. But God is always there, and always guiding us. In terms of the ‘big picture’, the Jesus Storybook Bible puts it this way: “when there had been no way out, God had made a way. Many years later, once again, God was going to make a way where there was no way”. And we see this in Jesus. One scholar said that the parting of the the Red Sea is for the Old Testament what Jesus as Christ is for the New Testament – the normative redeeming and revealing act of God. (The Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Series)
I’ll finish with part of The Message translation of Moses’ joyous song to God:
I’m singing my heart out to God—what a victory!
He pitched horse and rider into the sea.
God is my strength, God is my song,
and, yes! God is my salvation.
This is the kind of God I have
and I’m telling the world!
This is the God of my father—
I’m spreading the news far and wide!
… the people you redeemed,
you led in merciful love;
You guided them under your protection
to your holy pasture.
Let this be the song that we sing, that you are our strength, you are our song, and yes! you God are our salvation. Help us to go out and tell the world, to spread the news far and wide, of how you guide us. Of how you protected and guided the Israelites through the Red Sea to safety, and of the role you play in our lives now and how you guide us. Open our eyes that we may see and recognize your direction. And help us to remember that even when we feel like we are blindfolded and like we can’t see a tower of cloud, that you are still there, that you love us, and that yes! even then you are still truly guiding us.
In your son’s name we pray