Scripture: Exodus 14:10-14, 21-29


For the past three weeks, we have been exploring how God has engaged God’s people in a relationship.  Working in and through ordinary, imperfect people, to accomplish miraculous things, God is constantly renewing creation, and bringing it to its fullest expression of love, even when we, ordinary imperfect people, do everything in our power to stand in the way of God’s creating activity.

We’ve seen God renewing creation through the cleansing waters of the flood with Noah, and we looked at the covenant God made and kept with Abraham and Sarah in their call to make a great nation. We saw God’s presence with Joseph, who, trusting in that covenant, demanded a blessing from his struggle, resulting in the reconciliation of the nation as God’s people, who are called forth to be a blessing to all nations.

Through all of this struggle, fear, blessing, and reconciliation, the covenant established by God has sustained and empowered all of humanity to live as a blessing in creation.  But if we have learned anything from these stories, we know that this covenant is never static or complete.  Rather, it is an ongoing relationship, constantly renewed by God, because humanity keeps wanting to take matters into our own hands, only to find our backs against a wall, crying out yet again for God to make a way where there is no way.

Throughout history and within a myriad of religious traditions, believers have looked to God for support and help in times of distress, danger, and oppression. Even many folks who have never believed in a god of any form will pray in times of crisis and death, or when a reliance on their own power, friends, or wealth fails to bring them into the fullness of the life they were hoping for.

Many traditions speak to the confidence of God’s deliverance for creation in their scriptures. The one we all probably know best is the story of Moses at the Red Sea, from the Jewish and Christian Bible, but there is also the story of the battle of Badr from the Qur’an.  In the Hindu tradition there is a story of the inevitable victory of Krishna in a battle between princes that also includes a description of the Hindu Goddess Durga who wins a great victory in a war between the gods and the demons. And, in Chinese Buddhism, Kuan Yin, is described as one with divine compassion who is ready and able to save anyone in distress.  All of these stories speak to the presence of God with God’s people and God’s ability to act in history on behalf of the people.   Here are some examples of these writings:

“United with me, you shall overcome all difficulties by my grace.”

Hinduism.  Bhagavad Gita 18.58  

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”

Jewish and Christian Bible, Zechariah 4.6  

“O you who believe! If you help God’s cause, He will help you and will make your foothold firm.”

Islam.  Qur’an 47.7

“To those who have conformed themselves to the Way, the Way readily lends its power.  To those who have conformed themselves to the power, the power readily lends more power.”

Taoism.  Tao Te Ching 23  

“Men of little ability, too, By depending upon the great, may prosper; A drop of water is a little thing, But when will it dry away if united to a lake?”

Buddhism.  Elegant Sayings 173

In our Jewish and Christian scriptures, the ultimate story of God’s deliverance is from Exodus. Here God works through Moses, and enters a war with the Egyptian Pharaoh (whom the Egyptians consider a god). By bringing a series of plagues on the people (Egyptians and Israelites), God convinces Pharaoh to release Israel from their bondage and allow the people to follow Moses out of Egypt.  Our text for this morning enters the story just after Pharaoh releases Moses and the people.  The Israelites have hastily gathered whatever they could of their possessions, and are presently moving as quickly out of Egypt as they can, before Pharaoh changes his mind and comes after them.  They are heading in the direction of the Sinai wilderness, hoping to get enough of a head start that by the time Pharaoh moves through his grief into the anger stage and changes his mind, the Israelites will be so far lost in the wilderness that not even Pharaoh’s army could find them and force them to return.  But there is one thing standing in the way between Pharaoh’s inevitable pursuit and being lost in the wilderness:  A huge body of water called the Red Sea.  My guess is, the people figured Moses must have stashed away some boats or barges ahead of time to address this challenge.  Imagine their surprise when they reach the banks of the sea and there are no boats or barges available to them.  As they turn around to look for alternate routes, they can see the dust of Pharaoh’s army getting closer and closer.

The people spoke:

11-They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 

And as no doubt many were trying to think of a friendly way to surrender to the Egyptians so as not to be slaughtered where they stand, Moses replied to their lament:

13But 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.14The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

“Keep Still?  Keep Still?  You have been telling us for months that we have to stand together against the Egyptians and suffer all the plagues (but one), in order to be ready to run when the time came… The time has finally come, and you bring us out to the sea, with no plan to get across it into the wilderness, and you are asking us to keep still?  What is wrong with you?”

The people are looking from the sea to the rising dust.  Moses is looking to God.  This is just like that story in the Qu’ran about the fall of Satan … Satan was looking at the imperfection of the people when God asked the angels (divine followers of God) and the jinn (followers of God with free will) to bow down before the imperfect creatures God had made.  All the other angels and jinn were looking at God.  It is in losing site of God that we all fall.  And truly, with their backs to the sea and no way out from Pharaoh’s pursuit, what choice did they really have but to surrender?  But to God, or Pharaoh?

It is within this discernment that people are asked to keep still. They could do nothing else.  “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today…”  There comes a time of profound silence, in all our lives, when we must keep still. A moment when we hover between the evil we know, and the mystery beyond our imaginations, when we must wait to see what God will do, because it is the only thing we can do.

It is in this moment, looking at God, that a path opens before us, fulfilling everything we are prepared to believe: a way out of no way that God, alone, can provide.

Are you looking at God?  Are you prepared to believe?  Will you wade into the water knowing that God is there with you?  What is stopping you from looking to God?  Fear? Anger? Doubt? Resentment? Despair? Pride? What do you need to let go of in order to prepare to believe?


Being Still

In worship planning this week, Eric told a story about his dog Roe.  He explained that when Roe jumps up into bed with them to go to sleep at night, Roe squirms a bit and is not immediately ready to settle in.  Eric ends up having to put his hand on Roe, applying slight pressure to hold him down a bit, until that point when Roe lets out a deep sigh, signaling that he has settled down and is reconciled to the idea of keeping still and letting sleep come.  I recognize this story, but for me it came in rocking my children to sleep.  My older daughter Rachel turns 24 today, so it’s been a while since I’ve rocked her to sleep, but I still remember the challenge in it.  She too would fight to the last to remain awake, but I would hold her tightly, until at last the deep breath and slow exhale would come, and she would finally allow my soothing song to drift her into her dreams.

God is holding on to us, with just enough pressure to assure us that we are safe, secure and loved.  Just tight enough that we might let go, and keep still.  In keeping still, we allow many more options for the Spirit to work in, through, and around us, renewing creation and opening paths that could not be seen before.  So let’s try this for ourselves, right now.  I invite all of you to sit up straight with both feet on the floor.  Placing your hands on your thighs, apply just a little bit of pressure. I will repeat a phrase from Psalm 46:10, and at the end of that phrase, take a deep breath in, and then let it out, in a slow, deep sigh.  We will repeat this practice several times, breathing in, and exhaling deeply, at the end of each phrase.  As you experience the stillness, think about whatever it might be that keeps you from looking to God.  What keeps you from being prepared to believe?  Whatever that might be, practice letting it go through your exhale.

Be Still and Know That I Am God (Breathe In/Exhale)

Be Still and Know That I Am (Breathe In/Exhale)

Be Still and Know That I (Breathe In/Exhale)

Be Still and Know That (Breathe In/Exhale)

Be Still and Know (Breathe In/Exhale)

Be Still and (Breathe In/Exhale)

Be Still (Breathe In/Exhale)

Be (Breathe In/Exhale)

Be Still (Breathe In/Exhale)

Be Still and (Breathe In/Exhale)

Be Still and Know (Breathe In/Exhale)

Be Still and Know That (Breathe In/Exhale)

Be Still and Know That I (Breathe In/Exhale)

Be Still and Know That I Am (Breathe In/Exhale)

Be Still and Know That I Am God (Breathe In/Exhale)


“Freedom is the gift. Living in freedom is the work.” Scott Frederickson

The crossing of the sea is a story that transitions a people from fear to awe, from doubt to faith, from cries of despair to shouts of joy and worship.  God hears our cries of injustice and liberates us for a new life. Providing freedom to live into our fullest creation is what these stories of God are all about.  This concept of freedom is true, not just in the scripture we share with our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters; but the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, also says it is for freedom that Christ set us free (Galatians 5:1).  My husband (Rev. Dr. Scott Frederickson, has a saying, “Freedom is the gift. Living in freedom is the work,” which always has me asking the question, “If we are delivered into freedom, then what are we freed for?”

My Old Testament Professor, Dr. Ralph Klein, and Dr. Dennis Olson, an Old Testament professor from Princeton, both talk about this Exodus story of deliverance as having two versions within it.  The first is the Early Non-Priestly Version (Ex 14: 10a,c; 11-14; 19-20; 21b; 24-25; 27b):

  • The divine cloud moves between Egyptians and Israelites
  • The LORD drives the sea back by a strong east wind all night (no account of Israel’s crossing or any action at all by any of the Israelites, including Moses)
  • Somehow through the pillar of fire and cloud, the LORD throws the Egyptians into a panic and they go into the sea and are drowned

In this version, God is the one doing everything. While the Israelites are “keeping still,” God uses the cloud, the pillar of fire, the east wind, the sea to defeat the Egyptian army.

In the later Priestly Version (Ex 14:10b; 15-18; 21a,c; 22-23; 26-27a; 28-29), there is much more activity on the part of the Israelites:

  • The Israelites see the advancing Egyptians and cry to the LORD
  • The LORD commands Moses to raise his staff over the water and the waters divide
  • A path of dry land opens up through the sea with walls of water on both sides
  • The Israelites walk safely through the Red Sea to the other side
  • After the Israelites have crossed, Moses stretches out his staff and the sea waters return, killing the pursuing Egyptians

In this version, God seems less directly involved and instead, uses Moses to enact God’s deliverance, suggesting that humanity also has a role in God’s making a way out of no way.

Both these scholars, while agreeing that these separate versions occur in the scripture text, also agree that the reason these versions were combined in scripture is that both God’s activity, and our human participation in that activity, need to exist together to provide the biggest picture possible in this story of deliverance.  God is actively engaged in the struggle of God’s people, intervening at times directly on their behalf against forces of bondage and oppression, while at the same time, God may also work in and through God’s people, and their decisions, to achieve God’s purposes in the world.

God may do the heavy lifting in making a way out of no way in this story, and in all of the stories we’ve been exploring.  But, it is also true that we, God’s people, also have a role.  “Keeping Still” is not the passive decision that our society often makes it out to be.  Have you ever heard the phrase “Don’t just stand there—Do something!”  This deliverance story confronts us with the danger of doing something on our own without taking the time to be still and looking for where God is already working in the world.  Our role is to pay attention; be aware; practice seeing God’s activity, and intentionally prepare and learn through recognizing patterns available to us in our own lived experiences.

This doesn’t mean we are doing nothing, just waiting for the water to close back in on us.  It is an active listening, and a discerning participation.  Humanity needs always to act in response to God’s activity. In all our decisions, we must intentionally wait for an answer to become obvious.  We participate best with God in a way that continues the blessing demanded by Noah, Abraham, and Joseph. We must allow time for the Spirit to open our options and move us in a direction that helps us choose best for all creation.  Even when are standing with “our enemies,” people we completely disagree with, we need to expect that God is present and engaged in what is going on, and ask what God might be revealing to us through these people or in this situation.

This is our role.  Expecting the presence of God among us, and preparing to believe in God’s deliverance so we respond to it by living into the freedom that is God’s gift to us.  We live into this freedom by actively loving God, loving our neighbor, and loving ourselves.   How do we know if we are NOT responding to God’s activity?  Our options begin to shut down and close us off from relationships with others, the earth, and with God.  If we are too busy finding our own way, instead of looking at God, soon we will find our backs to the sea, crying out for God’s deliverance once again.  Our selfish actions bring their own punishment of isolation and discontent.  We may have two cars and a boat in our garage, but do we find the time and the relationships we need to enjoy them?  It won’t be God punishing us for not participating in the activity of creation.  We will be punishing ourselves, by walking further and further away from everything that brings us joy and fulfillment.  Often God’s activity is most needed to deliver us from ourselves.  We are our own worst enemies.

So take a moment every day to exhale.  Practice letting go of whatever keeps you from looking to God to make a way, and of whatever keeps you from keeping still long enough to respond to God’s way in love.  Then, get moving … wade into the water, expecting God to be there, already making a big splash!


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