Sunday, September 14, 2014

“Surf’s Up” (Exodus 14:19-31)

Do you remember what the one vulture said to the other vulture as they were sitting on the branch of a tree in the middle of nowhere in the desert?  Well, the one vulture looked over at the other vulture and said, “Patience my rear end . . . I want to kill something now!”

The human race is not very patient.  The human race is not very trusting either.

Pharaoh has set the Israelites free because he has had enough of the plagues that God has unleashed upon the Egyptians . . . tired of the whole mess especially when God takes away all of the first born of Egypt.  Pharaoh sets them free and the Israelites hightail it out of there as fast as they can.  Now, mind you, it is not easy to hightail it out of anywhere when the hightailing involves close to an estimated million people . . . but the people flee Egypt and captivity.

Off they go . . . slowly, but surely . . . they make their way to freedom . . . until they reach their first obstacle.  Before the people lies the Red Sea . . . a body of water between them and their freedom.  Not the best of places to get stuck especially since the Pharaoh—having had time to steam a little—decides that he changed his mind.  He either wants the Israelite slaves back or he would kill them all.  He mounts the army to chase after them and begins to think that he has them cornered . . . has their backs against the wall.  Things are not looking good for God’s people

Of course this was just the beginning of what would become a central theme to the exodus story . . . what biblical scholars like to call “lamenting”, and what we would probably call moaning, groaning, and whining.  Who wouldn’t be having second thoughts . . . the God of the Israelites had made the Egyptians angry—vengeful angry.  Now the Israelites had their backs against the wall, the Egyptian army right on their tails and they had nowhere to go.  I imagine that more than one or two Israelites were anxious as they watched the army’s dust coming towards them.  They wanted out and they wanted out right then and there . . . patience was a virtue and they sure were not too trusting of a God who would lead them right into a trap.

But everything worked out.  The Lord told Moses to spread his arms out across the sea.  Moses did as he was instructed and then the most magnificent thing happened . . . the water parted . . . the ground dried up . . . and, suddenly there was a route for the people to escape through.  The people did not hesitate to get to the other side.  Once on the other side, God instructed Moses to do the same thing over the water and the water rushed back to its original place.  The pursuing army of the Egyptians was washed away . . .wiped out.  The problem was solved and the exodus remained intact. 

Then the writer of this passage tells us: “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”  The people “feared” the Lord . . . often that word—“feared”—translates into faith . . . the people discovered faith in the Lord.  They “trusted” the Lord.  At least for a little while they did.

Unlike my wife, I am not much of an ocean person.  Oceans are kind of boring to me . . . give me the mountains and I will be happy.  At the ocean there is not a whole lot to do but lie there, catch a few rays, and watch the tide come in and out.  Yet, there are those who find great pleasure and adventure at the ocean . . . they are patient . . . they are trusting . . . it is just a matter of time.  It is just a matter of time before these patient beach dwellers hear the cry, “Surf’s up!”  It is a call to action.

Suddenly the peaceful and passive beach dwellers begin to move.  They grab their surf boards and head for the water.  “Surf’s up” is a call to action in order to take advantage of the newly acquired waves . . . grab the surf boards and hit the waves.  It is one of those opportunities that either has to be taken or missed . . . it might not come around for a couple days, weeks, or even months. 

With the grumbling going through the people who were facing extinction or a certain return to slavery, when Moses lifted his arms and the sea split in two . . . the surf was up.  It was a now or never opportunity . . . life or death situation.  The people had to decide . . . cross that corridor through the sea that hinged on whether or not Moses could keep his arms up long enough for everyone to get through, or stick around and see whether or not the Egyptians would show a little mercy or kill them.  The people were confronted with “surf’s up” . . . what were they to do?

They crossed the sea.

God watched over them.

God took care of them.

God did it all despite the people and their “lamenting” . . . despite their disbelief . . . despite their lack of trust.  I guess they decided that one way or another they were going to die, so they chose to go the route of drowning.  But, God took care of them!  The result was that the people “feared” the Lord and trusted in God.

Patience and trust . . . as a people of faith these two seem to be a big key to whether or not we are truly a people who live in the presence of God with complete belief in what we proclaim with our mouths.  As a pastor I have witnessed those situations in the lives of those I have served that felt and seemed as big as that of the Israelites with their backs up against the sea and the army rushing down upon them.  I have witnessed the difficulties that seem to have no way out in the lives of those I have served over the years.  I have seen how quickly the patience has evaporated in the heat of the moment . . . seen how quickly the trust has left the heart . . . and, seen how scary it is to think that there is no way anyone can survive.

Of course, the thing that any good pastor does is to remind the people that no matter how difficult or scary any situation is in life . . . God is with us.  God is always with us no matter how bleak life looks.  And, I have had more than one person over the years just laugh at me and tell me I am number one with the wrong finger . . . there is no way, in their minds, that even God will get them through what is about to happen.  Yet, those words are true . . . God is always with us.

It is all a matter of how we respond to “surf’s up!”

Are we going to pick up our surf boards and hit the waves, or are we just going to sit it out?  The Israelites had a choice to make: cross the sea or stay there and hope for the best.  Would the Egyptians be merciful?  Would they drown in the water?  Well, a person never knows until he or she takes action and does something.

Whether it was out of fear or trust that the Israelites crossed that sea does not matter.  What matters is that they decided to do something . . . they decided to move.  God provided.  God was with them.  So it is for us.  God will provide . . . God will be with us.  But, we have to move when the call is given.

It is a tough lesson to learn as the children of God . . . to trust in God’s presence through thick and thin . . . through good and bad . . . through the scary.  As the exodus story continues we will witness that this trust and patience comes and goes among the faithful for the Israelites . . . and, so it is with us today.  Belief comes and goes.  “Surf’s up” is called and we hesitate . . . hesitate whether or not we will grab our boards and go with the waves to see where we end up, or whether or not we stay on the beach and feel the safety of the moment where we are.  The choice is always ours.  What will you do?  Amen.

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