At Spirit & Truth Publishing, we have divided the first five Narrative Lectionary readings in a single unit. The unit theme is God’s Promises Bring Hope. We saw this in Noah, in Sarai and Abram, and in Joseph. This week, we encounter part of the central story of the Hebrew Bible (and the New Testament): the LORD delivering the people of Israel from Egyptian slavery. The God revealed in this story is God the Liberator. God’s way (or will, or kingdom) is a way of liberation from bondage and oppression. This is not in addition to the descriptor “God is love” but an aspect of that love.
To the Red Sea
The people of Israel had recently experienced God’s power in the ten plagues and the fulfillment of the promise of deliverance from the Egyptians. The LORD was present for them in a very clear way, as a pillar of cloud and fire. So, I imagine that the people were feeling happy as they made their way to the Red Sea. Things were finally looking up for them. God was finally leading them to the land God promised to Abram/Abraham a half-century earlier. God promised, God delivered, and the people had hope.
At the Red Sea
When the people arrived at the Red Sea, I imagine their smiles turned to frowns of puzzlement. Was this the right way? Why were they stopping here? Then, they turned and saw the huge Egyptian army charging at them. Even if they were not at a seashore, the story tells us there were 600,000 men, plus women, children, and livestock. There would be no way for the people to outrun or outmaneuver an army with chariots.
The reading says that the Israelites reacted with “great fear.” I imagine that was putting it mildly. I know I would be having an anxiety attack, freaking out and feeling trapped. This may not have been a rational reaction, considering the power God had shown them. But, often, our immediate reactions are not rational.
Through the Red Sea
In this case, Moses doesn’t even rebuke them for their lack of trust in God. He simply (but probably loudly) told them, “Stop! God’s got this under control!” And, God did have the situation under control, in fact, it was all going according to plan. To be clear that this was not just a freak natural phenomenon, God told Moses to lift up his staff over the sea and proceeded to create a passageway through the sea. Unlike many of the cinematic portrayals, this didn’t happen immediately, it took “all night” (v. 21). The people’s hope was reborn and, once again, God was fulfilling God’s promise. And, this was a cause for worship (Exodus 15:1-21).
We also respond to situations with fear, or at least fear’s younger siblings, worry and stress. While I’m sure it’s possible to trust God so completely that it becomes part of your being, showing up in your immediate reactions, with a few exceptions, I’m not there yet. And, neither are most people.
It’s at this point I must address a tough question: does God always deliver us from bad things? The tough answer? No. Sometimes things are bad, and they just get worse. This happens to God’s faithful and everyone else. I don’t think that it does anyone favors to say that God will always deliver us. To put it bluntly, if we say that, we’re lying. When things don’t get better, people will lose faith.
Hope within Fear
Where, then, do we find hope? We find promise and hope in one of the inherent messages of the gospel, that we are children of God, loved beyond all measure, and that God will be present with us through good times and horrible times.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Isaiah 43:1-2).
“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
This is the main way God delivers us today. God brings us freedom by being a constant presence in our lives. God calls us to continually proclaim this good news and, most importantly, to embody this good news by ourselves being present for others.
How should we respond to God’s loving promise? With worship. Our free activity this week, “We Praise You,” encourages each participant to think of a difficult time in their lives and to be reminded of God’s attention and deliverance in their lives. Then, we respond with praise! This activity was written for our Living the Word: Kids (3rd-6th) curriculum but it could easily be done in an older or cross+generational group. It would take very little adaptation to include this as an interactive component in worship.
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
It’s not too late to order your 2018-2019 (NL Year 1) faith formation resources! As soon as your payment is processed, you can download the Fall, Winter and Spring quarters immediately.
For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!
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