Sermon Library

Sermon Library

Sun, Feb 02, 2020

Stand Firm

Duration:19 mins 1 sec

Our Second Reading for this morning comes from the Book of Exodus, chapter 14, verses 10-31. As we are on the way to Easter this year, we are reading and preaching texts from an ancient Christian service called the Easter Vigil. If we were to actually hold this service, we would have some choice as to the texts we would read, except for one. The tradition is that the text from Exodus, the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, must be read.

You may remember that the Israelites had cried out to God as slaves in Egypt. God hears their cry and sends Moses to lead the people out. The Egyptian Pharaoh finally agrees to let the people go after ten plagues from the Lord, including the death of the first born. But after the Israelites leave Egypt and begin their journey into the wilderness, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened and he assembles the full Egyptian army to pursue the former slaves. We join the story here as the people are camped with the Red Sea before them and the Egyptians advancing from behind. Let us hear this Word of God.

10 As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 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? 12 Is 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.” 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 upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into 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.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

February 2nd. It’s Groundhog Day. As snow flurries fell this morning, Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow. The forecast is for an early spring. I wonder if it works the same way with preachers when Groundhog Day falls on a Sunday? If the pastor climbs into the pulpit and sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of this sermon series? Actually will be more than that!

The first official Groundhog Day celebration took place on February 2, 1887. The local Punxsutawney, PA newspaper editor, Clymer Freas, sold a group of businessmen and groundhog hunters on the idea. Together the men hiked to a site called Gobbler’s Knob, where the inaugural groundhog became the bearer of bad news when he saw his shadow. The crowds still gather every year at Gobbler’s Knob, as they did this morning, to see if Punxsutawney Phil will be scared of his shadow.

Now, we know that predicting the weather based on a groundhog’s fear or lack thereof is a silly thing. And yet, we all understand that impulse when we are afraid, to run back to bed and pull the covers over our heads. Yes, fear is a powerful thing. Some say it is the most powerful motivator for human behavior. Author Robert Wilson writes:

Nothing makes us more uncomfortable than fear. And we have so many fears: fear of pain, disease, injury, failure, not being accepted, missing an opportunity, and being scammed, to name a few. Fear invokes the flight or fight system, and our first reaction is often to flee back to our comfort zone.

Sounds like our text for today. The people were afraid; probably even better described as terrified. The Red Sea sits before them. The Israelites were land people. They were not seafarers or sailors. They lived and worked on the land. Large bodies of water generally scared them, for you cannot see what lurks beneath the surface of deep waters. You could be over your head, lose your footing, or overwhelmed by the wind and the waves at any moment. Yes, the waters ahead were deep and wide and the people of Israel could see no way forward.

If that was not enough cause for fear, behind them was the Egyptian army. Horses and chariots. Swords and spears. Set on their destruction. Flight or fight is the natural response. But they could not flee due to the Red Sea before them. Fighting would be futile as these former slaves had no means to defend themselves against the Pharaoh’s army. They were terrified. So it was:

In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 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? Is 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.”

What did Robert Wilson say: “Fear invokes the flight or fight system, and our first reaction is often to flee back to our comfort zone?” It is hard to imagine that slavery in Egypt was the people’s comfort zone, but that is where they turn. In great fear the Israelites cry out to the Lord saying that things back in Egypt were so much better than today. At least there were graves there. Moses, we told you to leave us alone! The people cannot flee; they cannot fight, so in their fear they wish for what they know - slavery in Egypt.

My friends, have you ever been afraid like that? When slavery looks better than your current circumstances? There are many fears in this world, but this is deeper fear than the fear of speaking in public. It is a deeper fear than fear of snakes or spiders or dogs, of heights or flying, of doctors and shots and germs. This is a fear for your safety, fear for your health. This is a fear for your life and for the life of those you love. Yes, have you ever been afraid like that?

In the movie Just Mercy about lawyer Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor and the wrongly condemned on death row, there is a moving scene with two death row prisoners. Walter is in one cell, convicted of murdering a teenage girl despite a mountain of evidence showing his innocence. In the next cell is Herbert, convicted of killing a woman with a homemade bomb. He did set the bomb, but was mentally ill after childhood abuse and several tours in Vietnam. Herbert has just received a letter informing him that his execution date had been set. He is afraid, better described as terrified. He cannot flee; he cannot fight. He begins to wail and hyperventilate. Hearing his cries, Walter begins to talk to Herbert in a calm voice, gradually getting his attention. He invites him to breathe deeply and as Hebert’s breaths begin to moderate, Walter asks him to close his eyes and imagine being somewhere else, somewhere outside, somewhere with hope. Herbert calms as despite the looming execution date and his inability to do anything about it, he believes Walter when he says, “I want you to just keep your mind on that and nothing else. Everything is gonna' be all right.”

In the midst of their great fear, in the midst of their crying out to the Lord, in midst of their desire for slavery instead of death in the wilderness, the people hear Moses speak to them. And he tells them three things, my friends, three things that I want you to remember today.

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

First, do not be afraid. Now I have not counted myself, but it is said that the Bible contains 365 occasions where God or an angel says to someone in distress, “Do not be afraid.” Yes, one “fear not,” for every day of the year. My friends, when fear threatens to overwhelm you, the first word from the Lord is “do not be afraid.” God is here and at work on your behalf. You are not alone.

Second, stand firm and see. Do not flee and do not fight, for neither is going to determine the outcome of this day. The Hebrew indicates that the people are to station themselves at the ready. They are to watch and be prepared because God is getting ready to do something for them. As Old Testament scholar Terence Fretheim says,

What God does will decisively affect their “seeing.” Their perspective will now be shaped by what God does, not by what the Egyptians do. The view on their horizon will take the shape of freedom wrought by God rather than bondage.

Now, we must admit that what God does may look nothing like what we expect or hope for. How many of those Israelites do you think expected that God was going to part the waters of the Red Sea so they could walk through on dry land. I doubt a single one! But they were ready and watching because they knew that it is God who will determine what happens next.

And finally, keep still. This is not asking the people to not move a muscle. It is not a cause for passivity because someone else is going to come and do their part. The people will need to step forward in faith into the sea on dry land when the call comes. No, in this text “keep still” is a word calling for silence. No need for a cry of lament or for a battle cry. God is getting ready to act and they do not need to be distracted by their own cries.

Do not be afraid. Stand firm and see. Be still. My friends, this life is full of joy and celebration like groundhogs predicting the weather and football games watched by billions of people. This life is also full of pain and fear like sickness, aging and death. And in the end, we have ultimate control over neither. But we trust in the one who does. Jesus Christ - the one who brings light out of darkness; freedom out of slavery; deliverance out of suffering; and life out of death.

My friends, do not be afraid. Stand firm and see. And be still. I want you to just keep your mind on that and nothing else. Everything is gonna' be all right. For while it may be nothing like what we are expecting, God is just getting started. And, do not forget that, contrary popular belief, with God the most powerful motivator in the world is not fear – it is love.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

Latest Sermons