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    Exodus 14:10-18

    ¹⁰When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. ¹¹They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? ¹²Is not this what we said to you in Egypt?: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” ¹³And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work 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 be silent.” ¹⁵The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. ¹⁶Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. ¹⁷And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. ¹⁸And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”  

    We're in the midst of the series focused on the life of Moses, and today we come to the very heart of the book that we call Exodus. Now the word exodus means “going out” or “departure,” so this episode recounts Israel's exodus out of the land of Egypt, where God—in order to help the people crossover from their bondage in Egypt to the new land he has promised them—parts the Red Sea. The cartoon artist Gary Larson, creator of The Far Side series, has had a lot of fun depicting this moment in Moses' life. In one of his cartoons, a supposedly young Moses is sitting down at the kitchen table with a glass of water in front of him. His mother is behind him at the kitchen sink with her back turned to him, and while she's looking in the other direction, Moses parts the water in his glass by stretching out his hands. In another cartoon, you see a much older Moses standing in front of the bathroom mirror, who parts his hair, using the same gesture to part it, by stretching forth his hands. Now I showed that cartoon to a few of my kids last night, and my very perceptive 8 year old, Eliza, looked at the cartoon and instantly said to me, “You know, Daddy, that wouldn't actually work.” And I said, “Why not?” And she said  “Because Moses doesn't have a staff in his hand.” So there! Good job, Eliza. This episode, I would suggest, is the defining moment for the people of God in the Old Testament—an event not just for cartoon artists or even history buffs, or one limited to people who lived 3,200 years ago, because it is critically important for us today, packed with multiple layers of meaning. Today, I'd like us to take a closer look to see what the exodus means for God's people in the past, in the present, and in the ultimate future. 

    The Past 

    Let’s consider the past—the original Exodus. As we've seen over the last several weeks, God's people were living as an immigrant ethnic minority in Egyptian society, where they became victims of political, economic, social, and spiritual oppression.They were stripped of their political liberty, exploited for their labor, threatened with state-sanctioned genocide, and denied the right to worship and serve their God freely. But the God of the Bible is so committed to justice that he refuses to allow this evil to stand, and rises to take action in order to deliver his people from their bondage and oppression. Now what's interesting about the book of Exodus is that it is the place where God is introduced as a redeemer of his people, as does the book of Genesis. 

    Now the word “redeemer” is actually a technical word in the ancient world, which generally referred to a family member who had the responsibility and the means to protect, defend, and rescue fellow family members who find themselves in trouble. So a redeemer was essentially a family champion. For example, if someone in the family was murdered, then it was the responsibility of the redeemer, the family champion, to pursue the guilty party to ensure that that person is brought to justice. Or if a member of the family fell into debt or lost their land, it was the responsibility of the redeemer to buy back the land, in order to to keep it in the family, and as a result, redeem that family member who might otherwise have fallen into slavery or servitude.  So the word redemption—the mission of the redeemer—technically meant, “to buy someone back out of slavery.” And here in the book of Exodus, God, essentially for the first time, becomes the redeemer of his people. 

    Now a redeemer is someone who is willing to pay any price and make any sacrifice, in order to make things right. In the film Taken, we have an example of a redeemer. In the story, Liam Neeson, who plays the role of Brian Mills, has a daughter, Kim, who goes on a trip to Europe with her friend, Amanda. While in Paris, they're kidnapped tragically by a sex trafficking ring. Kim however has the foresight to hide under a bed in the apartment where she's staying, and while this kidnapping is taking place, she calls her father on her cell phone. As she's being dragged out from under the bed, her abductor picks up the cell phone, and unfortunately for him, Brian Mills, who is on the other end of this line, is not just any old dad, but a former CIA agent. And so in the brief moments that Brian Mills has, he speaks words to his daughter's abductor, and he makes a promise. This is what he says: 

    "I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”

    Here Brian Mills is operating as a redeemer, a family champion; and when I watched that movie, I remember thinking  to myself “This is almost like what God says to Pharaoh.” Now God doesn't use money, but he does have a set of skills—skills that make him a nightmare to people like Pharaoh. He will stop at nothing; he will pay any price, make any sacrifice, in order to rescue his people and  bring them home safely. I want you to notice, then, these three details related to the redemption of God's people from their slavery in Egypt: first, the promise of God; second, the faith of the people; and then third, the death of evil

    The Promise of God

    First, with regard to the promise of God, the redemption of his people—God has made a promise to the people of Israel, just like Brian Mills made to his daughter’s abductor. In Exodus 2:24, it says, “God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Issac, and with Jacob”; and in Exodus 6:6, God says, “Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.’” So God rises to action, because he's got a promise to keep.  

    The Faith of the People

    Second, notice the faith of the people. The people are in a tough spot, but after ten plagues that God has visited upon the land of Egypt, Pharaoh finally relents and decides that he will let the people of Israel go. But as soon as he does, and the people start making their way out of Egypt, Pharaoh changes his mind because now he realizes that he's about to lose his labor force. So he pursues the Israelites, sending his army and 600 chariots—the tanks of the ancient world. Now the people of Israel, facing the Red Sea on one side, and the Egyptian army on the other, are hemmed in, and surrounded by death on all sides. There is literally no way for them to turn. But Moses tells the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today.” God is going to make a way where there is no way. The people won’t have to lift a finger. They're not the ones who are going to fight the Egyptians. No, Moses tells them, “the Lord is going to fight for you.” He's going to make a way for them. And that's a reminder to us, that we are never to seek vengeance against our enemies, but to leave it in the hands of God. God tells Moses to lift his staff, Moses stretches out his hand, and God parts the waters of the Red Sea. The people of Israel now walk on dry land, and into the freedom that God has secured for them. 

    The Death of Evil

    Still, the Egyptians pursue them into the sea. Now all that the people were called to do was to “watch to see the salvation of the Lord work for them"—in other words, “have faith in God.” Once they have passed through the Red Sea, God brings about the defeat of evil. God tells Moses to stretch forth his hands once more, and the waters returned to their normal course. The Egyptians are swept away by the waters of the Red Sea, and meet a fitting end. 

    I say that they meet a fitting end because, as you may recall back in Genesis, one former Pharaoh had ordered that all the Hebrew baby boys should be drowned in the Nile River. But now we see that the evil that the Egyptians intended against the Israelites backfires on them; for it's now the Egyptians who die by drowning, as they are swept away by the sea. What I want you to notice here is that God uses the very same instrument—in this case, water—to both judge evil, and to save his people at one and the same time. Water is the means by which he saves his people, and water is also the means by which he judges evil. 

    The Present

    In the past, the Exodus was the life defining event for the people of Israel. But what does this Exodus mean for us in the present moment? For those of us with a more sensitive social conscience, we might read the story of Exodus from our modern perspective today, and ask: But what about the Egyptians? What about the judgment of the Egyptians, as they're swept away in the waters of the Red Sea?  

    As a kid, I watched the movie The Ten Commandments, and I remember also being troubled by the sight of the Egyptians being drowned in the Red Sea. Yes, God is upholding his justice, but does he have to do it in this way? You may be interested to hear what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has said about justice and the judgment of God. On May 17, 1956, he preached a sermon right here in New York City, across the park at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on May 17, 1956, in commemoration of the second anniversary of Brown versus Board of Education, in which all nine supreme court justices ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. And so in light of that anniversary, King used this passage from Exodus 14 for his sermon, which he titled “The Death of Evil on the Seashore.” So, I think this is one of the places where Dr. King can be helpful, because there's obviously no question about his commitment to non-violence, and because he provides us with great moral clarity about injustice and oppression. He starts by saying: “There is hardly anything more obvious than the fact that evil is present in the universe. We may debate over the origin of evil, but only the person victimized with a superficial optimism will debate over its reality. Evil is with us as a stark, grim, and colossal reality.” Then he helps us understand the meaning and the significance of the Exodus event: “This story symbolizes something basic about the universe. It symbolizes something much deeper than the drowning of a few men, for no one can rejoice at the death or defeat of a human person. This story, at bottom, symbolizes the death of evil. It was the death of inhuman oppression and ungodly exploitation.” Hear  that?—“No one can rejoice at the death or defeat of a human person.” King then goes on to apply the events of the Exodus to the struggle for racial equality within this country, where he equates segregation to the Egyptians who are swept away by the waters of the Red Sea:

    “In our own struggle for freedom and justice in this country we have gradually seen the death of evil. Many years ago [the Black man was] thrown into the Egypt of segregation, and his great struggle has been to free himself from the crippling restrictions and paralyzing effects of this vicious system. For years it looked like he would never get out of his Egypt. The closed Red Sea always stood before him with discouraging dimensions. There were always those Pharaohs with hardened hearts, who despite the cries of many a Moses, refused to let these people go…But one day, through a world-shaking decree by the nine justices of the Supreme Court of America and an awakened moral conscience of many White persons of good will, backed up by the Providence of God, the Red Sea was opened, and the forces of justice marched through to the other side. As we look back we see segregation caught in the rushing waters of historical necessity. Evil in the form of injustice and exploitation cannot survive. There is a Red Sea in history that ultimately comes to carry the forces of goodness to victory, and that same Red Sea closes in to bring doom and destruction to the forces of evil.”

    King’s message obviously is a hope-filled one. As we look back over the history of our nation, we can see that we've made a lot of progress, and the older you are, the easier it is for you to see that progress, because you have lived through it. Still, there's much work to be done. Yes, God has led an exodus out of slavery and segregation and discriminatory practices in housing and employment; yet evil and injustice continue to rear their ugly heads, and so we need an exodus out of these injustices as well. 

    But the problem is, we live in such a fraught time of partisan politics that creates divisions among us. So often I tell friends, “Stop listening to the politicians, and start listening to the pastors, because the pastors are talking about things so differently than the politicians.” As an example of that difference between the talk of a politician and that of the pastor, I recently listened to an interview with a Black pastor, Efrem Smith, who leads a multi-ethnic congregation in California. This interview took place following the murder of George Floyd. Efrem Smith talked about how watching the video of another African American man crying out for his life was not only deeply painful for him, but deeply personal. It was deeply personal for him because he  said he grew up just six blocks from 38th and Chicago in South Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered, and his grandmother lived one block away from that corner. That drugstore on the street, he said, was called O'Tooles when he was a little boy. It was where he bought his icees and his comic books, and right on that street is where he would trade comic books with his friends, and where he learned to ride a bike. Because this event is so personal to him, he says he has become all the more committed, as a pastor, to racial reconciliation. 

    In his role as pastor, he says oftentimes people and churches will ask him: “Where do we begin?” “How do we get started? “How can we bring about change and not be part of the problem, because things have become so political?” And to these questions, he said this is what he will often say: “Look at 2 Corinthians 5. Reconciliation is a ministry. It's a calling. It's something that we have been called to as Christians, and therefore, we have to think about who we are. We have to start where we are—not where we're not. So how has God wired us? How has he gifted us? And where can we begin walking down the road towards racial reconciliation? If we're going to walk down that path, sometimes that means playing a role in closing the racial gaps, closing some of the disparities that exist in just one area. We don't have to overcomplicate this for ourselves, just just pick one area.” Efrem Smith suggests, as a way to close the racial disparity, look at education. He argues: 

    “There is good data that shows that urban, black and brown kids in the third grade through the fifth grade—if those kids are at grade level, just at grade level in reading and math—it is very likely that they will go off to college. But if urban black and brown kids in the third grade through the fifth grade are below grade level in math and reading, it's very likely that they might go off to prison. If I consider the majority of churches in America, I'm pretty sure that the adults in those churches can read at a third grade level. And that they can do math at a third grade level. And so if Christians in those churches decided to start an after school tutoring program or a Summer Academy [this is what his church in Sacramento does], then you can make a significant difference in closing some of those racial gaps. If you just make sure those kids are at grade level in math and reading, you are dismantling the pipeline to prison, you are opening the gateway to college, you are empowering those who have historically been the marginalized and the outcast, and are behind—because outside of spiritual transformation through Jesus, education is a tremendous key that unlocks the door to empowerment.”

    And I love what he goes on to say: “If I had an order of empowerment, I would say: 1) Jesus 2) education 3) wealth creation. Getting kids to grade level in math and reading by the third grade is going to get us down the road. And that is simple, low hanging fruit that is a nonpartisan way to make a difference.” 

    Listening to him obviously got me thinking, notably when he says, “You've got to start where you are, not where you're not.” We're not at 38th and Chicago in South Minneapolis. We're at 64th and Park in New York City. But if nothing else, this is a church where we value education; in this room right now is a highly educated group of people. So, what if we, as a church, were to take this call to racial reconciliation seriously? What if we were to start a tutoring program after school or a summer academy independently, or through some of our ministry partners? What kind of a difference might that make? And think of the timing as well. We're in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted schools, and just think of the implications of that. The current generation of grade students, elementary age students, right now, is at greater risk of falling behind in math and reading, because of the way in which the pandemic has disrupted education. But if we were to take this call seriously, perhaps we too might see God part the waters and open up a path of dry land to walk down that road of racial reconciliation. I think that's something that we should think and pray about together. For that is a good place to start. 

    But let me also add that we can't stop there, because that is not the only Exodus that we need. To see the reality of our human condition is to see that there are forces at work, not only out there in the world, but within our own hearts, that we cannot escape—no matter how hard we try. Therefore we need an even greater Exodus. Part of the reason why I appreciate Efrem Smith so much is because he understands that. At one point in this interview, he says,

    “I'm not naive. I don't believe that before Christ returns there will be this experience of this utopian world where there's going to be no racism, no sexism, no violence, no hatred, no unforgiveness, no adultery, no jealousy, no envy. I know that's not the case. I know there's going to be many bumps in the road between now and when Jesus returns, and makes everything right forever. But I do believe there is more that the church can do as an embassy, and an outpost to the kingdom of God, to unleash truth, love, compassion, justice, humility—as a preview of the beloved community.”

    So this is where we need to start, but it's not where we end, which can often be the case for modern people when they approach the Book of Exodus. They often treat the exodus as a kind of a parable of justice and liberation, and so they might transpose the event of Exodus and apply it to any and all socio-political situations where people are oppressed. They would say the exodus was just about liberation—no matter how you get it, or where it leads you. But when you do that, when you treat the exodus as this self-contained parable, then you cut it out of the larger narrative of which it is a part, for the exodus, you see, is part of a larger story. The reason why God sets his people free from their bondage in Egypt is not so that they can be free to do whatever they want. No, he sets them free from the service to Pharaoh so that they're free to serve him, the one true God. The exodus in the end is about setting us free, not only from something, but for something: To live for God rather than for yourself. And so we have to see the exodus as part of God’s larger story that culminates in the cross and the empty tomb. The story of the Exodus therefore tells us something about the past, our present moment, and the ultimate future that God has promised his people, which now we will look to.

    The Ultimate Future

    In Luke 4, Jesus launches his public career and goes to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. There Jesus picks up the scroll of Isaiah and reads, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to set at liberty those who are oppressed”—then he tells the people gathered there, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” That is Jesus' statement concerning his mission. This is what he's come to do.  If you then turn to Luke 9, we will see that as Jesus approaches his death in Jerusalem, he goes up on a mountain to pray, and as he was praying, And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:29-31).  

    Now the significance of what they discuss with Jesus is often lost in our English translations, because in Luke 9:31 it says, in our English translation, “they spoke of his departure,  which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” But that word “departure” is literally the word, “exodus.” So there on top of the Mount of Transfiguration, Elijah and Moses discuss with Jesus his exodus, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. In other words, they don't just talk about his death; they talked to him about the significance of his death, and so cast his death as a new exodus. That puts the cross and the empty tomb in a whole new light. 

    Jesus we now see has come to bring about a new and better exodus. And if that's the case, then we have to stop and ask ourselves: Why do we need a new exodus? And how do we get it? And what is this new exodus? 

    What is the New Exodus?

    If Jesus needs to lead a new exodus within us, that means that he's likening the human condition to a kind of bondage and slavery. He's telling us that we need to be set free, not only from the socio-political realities that might threaten our well being, but from an even more insidious force that taints every single individual heart, as well as every social structure. Jesus is telling us that we need an exodus, because we are captive and bound by a power that is far worse than Pharaoh: sin and death, because sin leads to death. And there's no escape. 

    Why do we need the New Exodus?

    So if our bondage is to an even worse enemy than Pharaoh, then we need a greater redeemer than Moses.  And that's what we have in Jesus—he is the greater redeemer. But what I want you to notice here is the way in which Jesus leads us to freedom. He leads us to freedom, not by going around death; rather, just like the people of Israel went through the waters of the Red Sea, Jesus goes straight through death. And God uses the very same instrument—the cross—to judge evil and save his people, at one and the same time. 

    If you go to Colossians 2, the Apostle Paul talks about how through the cross, Jesus triumphs over the powers of sin and evil that threaten human life—through the cross. Jesus takes the record of debt that was held against us and cancels it, by nailing them to the cross, and so  makes a way where there is no way (2:13-15). On the cross, Jesus essentially stretches out his hand, and opens up a path for us, so that we can walk on dry land towards the new creation that he has promised. And he does it all by grace. 

    How do we get the New Exodus?

    So the final question is: How do we participate in this new and better exodus? And the answer is “by faith.” Just as Moses tells the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord,” so Jesus says the same thing to us: “Fear not. Stand and see the salvation that God works for you.” Through his triumph on the cross, Jesus fights for you. And you don't have to lift a finger, because Jesus does all the work. 

    The way then in which we signify our participation in this exodus is through baptism, which is the sign that we have taken hold of Jesus by faith, and are participating in this exodus that he has accomplished for us. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, Paul likens the passing through the Red Sea as a kind of baptism, for here he says that the people of Israel, “were all under the cloud”—meaning, the Lord led them through the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, as the sign of his presence. But now here is what is interesting: All of God's people, who pass through the waters of the Red Sea, were baptized into Moses, and that because they so identified with Moses, as their redeemer - that by passing through the waters of the Red Sea, it was like a kind of baptism. And that is true for us as well. When we see what Jesus has accomplished for us, when we take hold of him by faith, and see the salvation that he has worked for us by his grace, then our baptism is like passing through the waters. It's the sign of our participation in that Exodus, as we walk on dry land—out from the bondage to sin and evil and death, and into freedom and fulfillment in Christ.  

    Exodus is therefore the very heart of the gospel,and that is because Jesus is the ultimate exodus that we need. His exodus sheds light not only on our past and our future, but informs the way in which we live now, in the present. The very reason why Christians work for justice now, why we pursue racial reconciliation, is because, as Christians, we are meant to be an emissary of the new creation. We're meant to provide the world around us with a sneak preview of what the world will be like when Jesus returns to make everything right, forever. And we do all this because of what Jesus has already accomplished for us through the cross and the empty tomb.  

    Many people today are praying for a spiritual awakening within our country. We've had great awakenings in the past, one in the 18th century and one in the 19th. And sometimes I think to myself and ask: What it would actually take to see an awakening in our day and age? What would it take for people in large numbers to turn to Jesus in faith, despite the indifference and, in some places, the hostility that people have towards Christianity? What would it actually take to see an awakening? 

    I think that, in our time, it would take this to bring about an awakening: Christians loving one another, personally, practically, radically across racial lines. If Christians loved one another, deeply and sincerely, from the heart across differences of ethnicity and race and class, don't you think that would cause the world around us to stand up and take notice? Don't you think they would ask: What's going on with those Christians? How do they do it? Perhaps, then, our loving one another across racial lines, would be the means by which God shows the world that he is up to something new and different. See, that's what we need—that kind of exodus out of hate, and into love because that's what Jesus said: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35). He said the world will know that you are my followers, my people, because of your love for one another. And that is what we celebrate at this table. We celebrate the ways in which Jesus unites us through love, despite our differences, because of that ultimate exodus he has accomplished for us, through his death and resurrection, through his cross and the empty tomb. So in light of that ultimate exodus, let's pray for that exodus we still need in our time—the exodus out of hate into love. 

    Let's pray together. 

    Father God, we thank you for all that you have accomplished for us through the life, death and resurrection of our great redeemer, Jesus. We thank you that you have brought us out of bondage to sin and evil, into the freedom and fulfillment in Christ. And we pray that you would help us to see that the exodus not only shines light on God's people in the past and on God's people in the future, but it informs how we, as your people, are called to live now. So we pray that you would part the waters of the Red Sea, open up a way where it seems there is no way, and show us how to walk down that road that you've set for us, that we might demonstrate that we are truly your followers, because of our love for one another. We ask this in Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen.