When You Believe

Exodus 14:19-31

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[a] 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.

When You Believe

Sharing this land mass with First Nations, the people of Mexico and Americans means that (if done right) we learn about our friends and our neighbours.  And so when life changing events affect one of us, they affect us all.

On Friday, we marked the 19th anniversary of the attacks made on September 11th, 2001.  For nearly twenty years, a crisis of fear and despair has gripped not just Americans and American media, but the world as well, as over 3000[1] people who lost their lives (including first responders).  As a result, wars were raged, and if you add to that initial 3000 the soldiers and civilians who lost their lives, the total is likely over a million people, if not more.

But now, as hundreds of thousands of Americans have died as a result of covid-19 in the last six months (not even including the near million people across our planet), as literally an equivalent of a “9/11 number of deaths happens per day,”[2] what are the wars we’re going to rage[3] as a result?  Combatting poverty and the disparate access to health and wellbeing?  Penalizing large companies like Amazon[4] that sacrifice their replaceable workers[5] in low income brackets in order to make the bottom line better?  Curbing excessive waste and  reduce our impact on the planet?  Ensuring access to proper education so that people do not mistake freedom with inconvenience?[6]  Or do we finally acknowledge the problem of racism when not even a moment of silence at the beginning of a large sports event can go without booing?[7]  These problems turned crises, cause us despair and hopelessness.  Especially when we can’t figure out ways to fix them. 

Just a few years before the 9/11 attacks, a children’s movie put the story of Moses in animated form called The Prince of Egypt.  It followed the long-held tradition held by Charlton Heston and The Ten Commandments in telling a foundational story of the Abrahamic faith traditions.  In the updated version (where the clip for today’s scripture originates), not only is the runtime miraculously shorter, but it’s primary focus is on the earlier years of Moses, culminating in the splitting of the Red Sea (they tack on the Ten Commandment moment but it’s more of an epilogue).  Focussing on the early years of Moses’ life establishes the pattern that plays out over his lifetime: God is continually making things new again.  At his birth, Pharaoh’s insecurity saw him target Hebrew children, and because of two faithful midwives, Shiprah and Puah, and Moses’ mother, children are spared.  Then later as Moses is raised in Pharaoh’s court he struggles living in two worlds, stuck between the wealth and power of the Egyptians, and the Hebrews and their God.  Later still, after Moses flees, God calls Moses to lead the Hebrews to freedom and new life.  We have two powers at play throughout the Exodus story – that of our own human power, and that of the divine. 

When you’ve reached your lowest – when you don’t feel like you have enough strength, or money, or faith enough to carry, what has seen you through? 

I realize that question begs the oversimplified-Sunday-School-answer: God, but there’s more to it than that.  We as a species are taught to grow up and take responsibility for our actions, solve our own problems, and accept our fate.  But those same situations cause us deep despair, for problems that lead to crises, and oftentimes even situations that are so large become paralyzing.  The oversimplified-Sunday-School-answer of God seeks to undo some of those early lessons we’re taught.  We’re not alone.  Our fates are not just ours, but God’s to bear as well.  The solution we seek is in harmony with the divine song – and it’s why I so love the song that precedes the scene at the Red Sea in The Prince of Egypt:

Many nights we prayed
With no proof anyone could hear
In our hearts a hopeful song
We barely understood

Now we are not afraid
Although we know there’s much to fear
We were moving mountains
Long before we knew we could.

There can be miracles
When you believe
Though hope is frail
It’s hard to kill

Who knows what miracles
You can achieve
When you believe, somehow you will.
You will when you believe.

Many nights in the midst of this pandemic we prayed, with no proof anyone could hear.  With much to fear, we’ve tried to walk forward in faith, knowing how exhausted we all feel.  Relying on our own strength, we easily run out of ideas, despair at self-made problems, pandemics, and poverty, and wring our hands that nothing can be done. 

Yet the power of God is already making things new.  Discussions about basic income[8] have come back, and ineffective governmental responses are held to tight scrutiny.  Even when hope is frail, it’s hard to kill, because God is just far more creative than we are.  Like the old hymn sings a thousand ages in [God’s] sight are like an evening gone…and that kind of eternal perspective points to the countless generations that have experienced their own need for Exodus, the countless generations that have experienced their own plagues and pandemics, the countless generations that have combined human-made problems with divine creativity. 

We’ve been asked if we’re retuning to the church building.  Some United Churches are, and others not, some across the wide expanse of faith are choosing to return to their buildings and some are not.  And even though we experienced the first good news since this pandemic began, that on Friday in Canada no deaths from covid-19 were reported,[9] we don’t feel we can rush back to life as it was.  (In fact, next week’s scripture dives into this – as the Hebrews struggle post-Exodus as they want to return to Pharaoh, to return to what they knew instead of follow the God leading them into an unknown land). 

We follow the God whose eternal perspective points us in directions that we’ve not considered.  We follow the creative divine force that seeks new life whether we’re ready or not, for all people, and not just some.  We will continue to pray, and listen to all voices around us, praying that amidst them the voice of God may be heard.   We will stand before ways that seem unclear, and it will be God who reveals a new path, leading us forward. 

There is much to fear, even though we’re not afraid…though hope is frail it is hard to kill…for the divine presence dwells in this moment that we might continue to take courageous steps forward, knowing that we never have been, nor we never will be, alone.  Thanks be to God. 

[1] https://www.cnn.com/2013/07/27/us/september-11-anniversary-fast-facts/index.html

[2] https://ourworldindata.org/covid-deaths

[3] https://theintercept.com/2020/09/11/911-covid-19-and-the-politics-of-illusion/

[4] https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/it-s-up-to-us-amazon-employees-track-covid-19-outbreaks-claiming-lack-of-transparency-1.5030222

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/20/canada-migrant-farm-workers-coronavirus

[6] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/university-of-waterloo-professor-fake-covid-1.5717576

[7] https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/11/us/nfl-chiefs-texans-unity-spt-trnd/index.html

[8] https://www.insauga.com/guaranteed-basic-income-tops-policy-priorities-for-liberal-caucus

[9] https://ca.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-canada-idCAKBN26301J


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