Hope in a Hopeless World

Scripture: Exodus 14:5-31& Revelation 21:1-8
Given on 10/01/2017

I don’t know, but it must be exceedingly difficult to describe the tremendous cloud of dust that arises as a multitude of chariots begins moving en masse along the desert terrain that one encounters just outside of Cairo. And it was made all the worse when we learn that it is the mighty Egyptian army that has turned towards a tired and bedraggled group of slaves as they are moving as swiftly as possible in an effort to get safely out of range of their captors. And I cannot imagine the feelings of fear and dread that must have engulfed the whole of the Hebrew people as it became increasingly apparent that horrific violence was about to be visited on them. And their minds must have been filled with terrifying images as the whole of their community is increasingly drowned in the sound of so many horse hooves hitting the ground as the best stallions in the whole of the world were being pushed to the bring of exhaustion as they were charging towards the newly freed children of Israel. And all of this happens as a debilitating anxiety overwhelms all of the former slaves as it was increasingly clear that their former masters were not just going to let them walk away after all. And as the totally horror of that moment began to wash over the whole lot of them, we can all understand if they began to cry out against Moses and God and Pharaoh and life as they were nearing what they imagined was a violent end to their lives. At best they were going to return to the miserable life of a slave in Egypt, at worst they were going to watch their husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, their children perish at the tip of the spear and sword. And in the moment that one is staring down death, you are painfully aware that there are no differences between the graves in Egypt and the makeshift graves that one creates in the middle of a desert when it is too far or too difficult to return someone’s body to its home country. Once you are dead, you are dead. and it is for the survivors to deal with your remains. As the existential panic of the moment begins to fully set in you have to think they all wanted to know, why Moses had brought them out here for one final bout against the violent strength of your enemies as you are surrounded and offered some kind of a fake choice between remaining a slave or enjoying the freedom of death? When Moses had first reappeared and told Pharaoh to let the people of God go, the backlash against those in the slave class had been brutal. In response to the inklings of revolution and libertation, the Egyptian ruler had set his mind to breaking their spirits through increased work with less food and water. People who can hardly lift their arms are unlikely to rebel against anyone. “We told you to leave well enough alone,” the Hebrews had say to Moses as he began to work for their freedom. It is easy to think that facing their impending demise that slavery must have seemed like a paradisiacal wonderland. And when Moses said that they should “stand their ground” and that they would all see the victory that would be won by God were they all convinced that he had simply been in the hot Egyptian sun for too long. Or when he said that today would be the last time that they would ever see Egypt again, had he not seen the cloud of 10,000 chariots quickly descending on the Hebrew nation? Did he really think that God would protect them from the end of an angry sword and spear? That God would protect those women and children who would undoubtably be trampled underfoot by the rushing tide of horse and steel that would soon be upon them? And there must have been a fresh wave of angst coupled with despair that washed over the people as it was clear that the pillar of clouds that they had been following seemed to be leading them into a large body of water. Surely even the youngest in their group could have told you that jumping into the sea to avoid an enemy was at best a temporary solution to a permanent problem. Even if you all go into the water, eventually you all have to come out. It’s not like you can float to the other side. And so as they reached the water, one must have been able to cut the tension of the moment with a knife. This whole nation of people, one-by-one, line-by-line coming to a complete stop at the shoreline of the Red Sea. Surely death was soon to be upon them. And most assuredly, more than a few of them cried out, “what are we doing here?” as Moses stood by the water and lifted his staff above his head. They must have a great many of their recent decisions as it was now abundantly clear that the person in whom they had placed their complete trust was, in fact, completely crazy. And when the pillar of the most high lifted up from in front of them and formed a blockade that both kept the Egyptians from getting to the Israelites but also keeping the Israelites from fleeing back to their homes, safe in the security that bondage offers a person, that must have felt like even God was pushing them into the water. As the column of cloud remained to their rear they were aware that the day was getting no darker. 7:00 in the evening, 8:00, 9:00, midnight, the light of God remained and the whole of the Hebrew nation continued to have no idea what was going on. And Moses, long since assumed by the people to have had a serious break with reality was still standing on the coast of the sea waving his hands over the water like he was conducting a symphony. Until, at some point in what should have been the darkest part of the night, a wind started to arise from the east. Slowly at first, passively, like the whisper of a butterfly, the people started to feel its affect on the hairs on their heads as wisps of bangs started to flutter a bit in the breeze. But with each passing moment, the wind grew stronger and stronger, and as it did, it began to blow over tents where people had been trying to sleep and as they looked out on the sea they saw Moses, standing high atop a crag of rock, his long hair and beard looking like a middle aged Charlton Heston, his robes now blowing violently as the wind seemed to consume his very being. But as they watched he seemed to be moving in tune with the wind, he seemed to control it, until, before everyone’s eyes, two walls of water began to rise up out of the Red Sea. Again it happened slowly, like a squall rises over the ocean and the waves start to break higher and higher, 4 ft, 8 ft, 15ft, 20ft, until the whole of the sea seemed to shoot straight up and for the first time, the silt that rests at the bottom of the water became visible. And when it did, the wind seemed to change directions. Like it had been fired out of a cannon, the wind seemed to blow down the canyon of water that had been created by the two walls and as it blew, sand, from the basement of time, that had been covered by water since the great flood began to dry and harden and the mud that was surely the base of the Red Sea turned into ground and ground into a path and a path into the only hope they had to escape. And as if the surreality of the whole moment was not overwhelming enough, the man who had just made the sea divide into two sides was now telling the whole of the Hebrew nation to decamp, pack away their tents and their supplies and begin walking along the pathway created by the two walls of water. Can you even imagine how that discussion must have gone among the people? But as the column that had separated the Israelites from the Egyptians slowly started to lift up and move to the other side of the sea, revealing the whole of Pharaoh’s army of charioteers, with each of their horses literally champing at the bit to get moving again, it was clear that the only hope this group of newly freed slaves had at survival lay in getting to the far shore of the Red Sea. And so they moved. And as they went isn’t it hard to imagine what that must have been like to be in the midst of the walls of water on each side? Could the fish and shrimp and crabs and the leviathan be seen through the clear sheets of water to their left and right? Could the children of the community run along and put their hands into the watery facade and experience the feeling of being wet in the middle of the dry walkway? Now, at this point, it should probably be pointed out that the most narrow part of the Red Sea and the likely place that they would have crossed is still roughly 1.2 miles in width. Can you imagine the amount of time it would take to get this whole nation of peoples well into the 1000s across from one side to the other? But they pressed on, what was the alternative? As the first of their number began to reach the other side and kiss the terra firma of the new land, the chariots finally arrived at the coast of the far side and began to ride into the path created by the walls of water and the wind, God saw that the Israelites needs a bit of help in making their escape. And so it was that the well-oiled machines of war and destruction that had been flying towards the Hebrew peoples began to bog down in the base of the Red Sea and confusion over what was happening soon began to overtake all the soldiers in Pharaoh’s mighty army. And still the Israelites pressed on. As the last of them reached the shoreline and was helped onto dry land, God came to Moses a final time and ordered that he deal them the final blow. With Moses hands raised in the same manner that a conductor would bring up the whole of a band to arise to a great crescendo, the water in the walls lifted up higher into the skies, and as Moses dropped his hands, it all. Came. Crashing. Down. As the water surrounded the Egyptians, those who had rode as hard as they could all day and night to get to this place, there was left no one to continue to pursue the Israelites. When the whole episode ended, the people weren’t sure what to think. They had survived, but what exactly had happened to bring that about still had to be something of a mystery to them. They were filled with awe for God, awe for Moses, awe for the pillar of cloud and fire that had gone with them all the way. But in the end, a new feeling emerged for them. This group of newly freed slaves, who until just a few minutes ago had been running in utter terror for their lives and the lives of their families. For the Hebrew nation, they trusted, maybe for the first time, in a long time, they trusted, God, fate, life, love. They trusted because in God that which seemed impossible was made possible.
It has, at times, over the course of the last few weeks, been increasingly difficult to locate the light shining in the darkness in the midst of the seemingly endless cavalcade of catastrophes that has befallen our nation, our continent, our world. Beginning with the devastation visited on the people of Texas and the Gulf Coast, to the Mexican people and two earthquakes the second of which shook the most populated city in North America to its knees, to the devastation of flooding in Asia, to the complete and utter devastation wrought against our American brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico, it has seemed as if the planet is revolting against its human tenets. And as images of people wading in waist high water that used to be their house, or fists being raised in an effort to quiet folks so that emergency workers could listen for survivors in a school that collapsed, or people lining up to get water from a PVC pipe that had been rigged to catch the running water from a swollen creek, it is easy to feel helpless in the face of such struggle and loss. To know that Houston will never be the same, Florida will never be the same, Mexico will never be the same, Puerto Rico is likely to never exist as a commonwealth anymore, is debilitating as we as a nation, a people, a church seek to respond to the cries of help from our brothers and sisters. And yet, it is in the midst of utter devastation that we must, more fully, rely on our faith to give us hope and then seek to offer that hope to those trapped in a hopeless world. To be the bearers of hope even when all hope seems lost, to be that beacon of light that shines in the darkness. It is our only job to be the people of God, to be the hands and feet of Christ, to create our own hope in the midst of despair and to be about the work of repairing the breach, of feeding the hungry and offering clothing to those without. Of giving water to drink and presence to persons trapped in the solitude that comes with losing everything. The story of our faith is replete with instances in which the faithful passed their eyes over the devastation of the moment and saw opportunities for new life, new faith, new peace. Inspired by God, the Israelites formed a new nation in a new place, a land flowing with milk and honey. Inspired by God, the prophets passed their eyes over the land, saw the myriad of ways in which the Hebrew people had fallen away from God, and yet also saw the world how it could be, how it should be. When the people had dwelt in darkness for far too long, Jesus came to this earth, not to be overcome by the hatred that too often infects people, not to be overwhelmed with the brokenness and sinfulness that we all have in our hearts and souls but to save us all from ourselves and remind us that under all the muck and the mire that we are first and foremost, and ever more will be children of God. Paul, spent the second chapter of his life starting, visiting, and encouraging new churches to be the best that they possibly could be. While the world may have seen a small gathering of blasphemers, Paul saw the spirit of God passing over the world and making all things new. John of Patmos saw a “new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had passed away.” And he heard a loud voice saying, “the home of God is among mortals.” That’s us. We are the home that God so earnestly seeks to make. And in the home of God, there is nothing impossible. With God all things are possible.
So I guess we have a choice. We may either be paralyzed by fear of devastation, of pain, of lose. We can be convinced that the whole of this world is a lamentable mess, that natural disaster and manmade violence have won out and that there is no point in even struggling for a new way to be. Much of the world shares that view. For many, cynicism and doubt have replaced the deepest part of the human soul that demands that we keep struggling, keeping trying to find another way to live with one another, another way to share all that we have that all might simply live, another way to interact with one another that doesn’t end in nearly constant bloodshed. Another way to live that lifts up the broken and struggling, that elevates those who cannot see in the darkness. But we come from a different lineage. Grafted to the tree of hope where people see a new heaven and a new earth with all things being made new. Where young people have visions and older folks dream dreams. Where for the history of the world there have been people to stand up and demand that we work together for the betterment of all. Where people have seen everyone they meet as brother and a sister. Where people have the faith to believe in the movement of God. Where people have hope that tomorrow can and must be better than today. Where people love because that is what we are all created to do. It is our most fervent calling. Faith, hope, and love, always remain these three. And the greatest of these is love. Glory be to God in the highest and on earth peace amongst all God’s peoples. Alleluia, amen.

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