A story of how the insecurity and selfishness of power claims the attention we owe God, a story of how he faithfully and powerfully delivers his people. Preached at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Taylor September 13, 2020.
We heard a couple weeks ago about Moses’s encounter with God as a burning bush, the interruption and commission God gave him. We heard of the holiness of God’s name and his desire that it be known by his people. We pick up that story now.
Following this encounter Moses takes his family, returns and meets Aaron who gathers the leaders of Israel and tells them about the burning bush.
“Let the people of Israel take some time off work to go and worship their God in the wilderness,” God asked the king of Egypt through Moses. Pharoah replied, “I do not know this God, so no your people will not go,” thus placing himself between God’s people and the object of their worship, stealing glory from God for himself. Pharoah then makes them work harder. The Nile turns to blood, “No your people may not worship their God”. Frogs fill the Nile, and every house, and every bedroom, still the people are not free to worship God. Clouds of gnats and flies fill the air, still Pharoah will not let them worship. A sickness comes and kills the Egyptian livestock leaving the Israelite animals unharmed, still Pharoah will not let them worship. Festering boils broke out on the Egyptian’s skin, still Pharoah was jealous of God and would not let his people worship him. Locusts came and devoured the crops and Pharoah finally said they would go and worship and asked Moses to pray that God would forgive him. But when the locusts were gone, as soon as they were gone, Pharoah would not let them go. Then a great darkness covered the land and Pharoah released them to worship… but told them how they must worship. Moses said he had no right to do so, so Pharoah said they may not worship then.
Tyranny is a constant in human history. Power held by frail humans is always insecure and lusts after deeper and deeper security. In ancient history this was in the form of god-kings who demanded they be worshipped, in the Middle-Ages in claims of Divine Rite, in modernity fanaticism and societal revolution, in post-modernity subtler and subtler totalitarianism. This insecurity leads to demanding more and more of those who are ruled, demanding their bodies, their minds, their hearts, their worship. The coming of the reign of God necessarily topples and exposes all tyranny, because it liberates from sinful reign and places the sinless lamb upon the throne of our hearts. We owe a respect and deference to worldly authorities but only so far. Our hearts and minds, our souls and our worship, our eternity belongs to Christ the King whose reign begins in us even now.
Lord Acton put it this way: “when Christ said: ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,’ those words, spoken on His last visit to the Temple, three days before His death, gave to the civil power, under the protection of conscience, a sacredness it had never enjoyed, and bounds it had never acknowledged; and they were the repudiation of absolutism and the inauguration of Freedom.”
It is the coming of the angel of death to Egypt that leads to the liberation of Israel. The people of Israel sacrifice a spotless lamb that they have loved and spread its blood over their door-frames, and so the angel of death passes over them, and takes from Egypt every first-born son. And Pharoah says enough. Go. Take yourselves, your woman and your children, leave Egypt before you destroy it. And the people of Israel leave.
But Pharoah can only let go for a moment, he needs to rule, he needs his power to be known, if he can not keep these people as his own no one can have them, and so he sends out his chariots, his great military might to go and destroy utterly the people he has let go.
And here in today’s story we hear the power of God’s deliverance. An angel of the Lord, a messenger of power that had been going ahead of Israel went behind them to defend them. A pillar of cloud kept them hidden from the murderous eyes of Egypt. Moses obeyed God and stretched out his hand and a great sea was parted and walls 4.5 km tall stretched up above them on either side. And they walked through the sea defended by a cloud and an angel. When the Egyptians got into the sea to pursue them God mucked up their chariot wheels so they moved slowly. Then when Israel made it to the other side, those 4.5 km high walls came crashing down on Pharoah’s army and drowned them in the depths of the sea.
This is how God is jealous for his people, this is how God is faithful to his promise. He makes ways for them where they see none, he shows the powers of this world to be nothing, he sends messengers with his word and power, he confuses the sight of those who hate him and his people, he makes their murderous rage profitless. What God is like our God whom the tyrants of this world can not know, whom we can not know without surrendering our power and little kingdoms to his reign, without passing through the waters of baptism, and being led by him. Can we follow? Not by our power surely.
God with great power led his people out of Egypt, and it was no short story. The even longer story that we will be hearing between now and November is part of how he got Egypt out of them.
For now let the praises of our hearts join the praises of Moses and Miriam who sang: “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling. You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance- the place, O Lord, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, your hands established. The Lord will reign for ever and ever. Thanks be to God.