September 13, 2020

CHRIST WITH US

Passage: Exodus 14: 19-31

Christ with us!

(A sermon based on Exodus 14: 19-31, the crossing of the red sea)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

Friends in Christ, given we are hosting Christian Motorcycle Association (CMA) Southern Chapters today, our meditation will focus on the theme of journey. The other day, I had the privilege of giving them a blessing at the front of this church, just as they were looking at going to Cape Hillsborough and exploring these beautiful sites of North Queensland. With journey on the forefront of our minds, naturally, the story from Exodus 14 presents much familiar context to us today. This text gives away, the journey of Israel, their problem and God’s redemption to save them from the hands of Egyptian army who were chasing Israel no chariots and all sorts of crazy vehicles. Sounds about right, talking about ‘chasing army’ and ‘jammed wheels’ from the Bible to enthusiastic ‘bikie’s’ visiting us today! Jokes apart, who can forget the story of God miraculously leading Israelites by parting the Red Sea and creating a dry land to pass? That familiar story ends with these words:

‘Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.’ (Exodus 14: 31)

But do you know, before Israel saw the Lord’s great power on display, as humans they panicked, they were terrified and most likely were uncertain of their redemption? Yet, God who journeyed with them preserved them. Let us listen into that journey today.

Let us pray:
Dear God, thank you for your word, which is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths. By your Word remove our fears and assure us of your presence, for we pray in Jesus name, amen.

Friends in Christ, past Thursday, September 10th was the designated national day of checking upon those close to us as to how they are going. We might have asked someone, ‘are you ok, mate?’ Each year, on ‘r u, ok?’ day we take time out to check upon those struggling with life’s ups and downs. We could do this any day not just on September 10th. Because not everyday is a good day for us all.

Let’s face it, 2020 isn’t the best of year for a lot of people. Being locked in doors, isolated, and not even allowed to give or receive a hug due to social distancing restrictions, unable to travel, are just enough reasons why something doesn’t seem right about our lives. It feels like we have lost in touch with essential ways we used to relate to one another. On top of it, add job loses, additional stress of looking after family spending more time at home, finding right time to race to shops just to ensure enough food is stored in pantry (and don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about that panic race our nation had seen in regards to toilet rolls) made it tough on many families, people have a sense of exhaustion like never before. Like I said, pretty crazy year 2020! This year, more than ever, we should check up on those close and far from us and ask, “Hey, are you OK?” That question right there might help a vulnerable person open-up to us. Such a question could pave way for a meaningful conversation.

People might share their burdens, allowing space for healing to flow into their life. If you are unlucky, your mate might zip their mouth tight, at which point, all you can do is give them more time to process their struggles and open up their life journey at another convenient time. Either way you, when you ask that question, you are opening up the possibility for a conversation and letting a mate know, you are there for them.

Like I said, each person’s life journey is unique. There are some who respond to invitations, but others don’t. But here is the grain of truth, irrespective of responses, we know, none of us are prefect all the time. We all have some sort of a worry, a bit of heartache, and stress in life. It could be fear about something or someone, or guilt weighing heavily upon a heart, or pain and suffering in the body or mind, or an unseen enemy that causes emotional stress destroying peace from our life. No one is excluded from the burdens of this life, our needs extend into the realms of physiology, psychology, and sociology.

The journey of life gets us all, sometimes it is our fears and other time it is worries. Some fear about their relationships, like well-being of children, while others worry about their finances or possessions or work or health or simply their future. All in all, life is a unique journey to us all.

Speaking of unique journeys, how unique is the experience we hear about Israelites and their journey, crossing through the red sea? For those of us who remember the scene from Cecil B. DeMille’s ‘Ten Commandments’ (1956) film, the scene where Moses departed red sea saying ‘the Lord of hosts will do the battle for us’ is still pretty fresh in our minds. If you have seen the movie, you might recollect, outstretched arms of Moses, parting red sea creating a dry land for Israelites to walk right through between walls of sea water. The wind drove the water back, providing miraculous escape for Israelites. Do you remember that scene? Powerful visuals they were, if you haven’t already, I will encourage you to have a look at it if you get a chance. As we have it in our reading for today, God did this miraculous act to save his people.

But let us not lose our sight here, before there ever was a miracle, there was a big problem faced by real people in real time. Before Israelites experienced the work of their saviour, they were overcome by the fear of their enemy. Before gaining confidence, Israelites had their share of complaints. Before they walked into freedom, they were chased by enemy’s chariots, all 600+ of them!

If Pharaoh’s army ever caught up with Israelites, that would have been the end of their journey. The long road to redemption would have ended quickly in the hands of their previous masters. You see friends, after ten plagues, Moses finally led Israelites out of Egyptian slavery into freedom. On their way to the Promised Land, Israel wandered in wilderness and camped by the sea. All was ok, until Pharaoh had a change of heart, and decided to chase Israelites with his army.

On the other hand, God’s people found themselves hemmed in by hills, swamp, the Egyptian army right behind them and impassable waters in front of them. By circumstances, they literally were at the end of their road, and were trapped.

When they saw Pharaoh’s army approaching them, fear set in their hearts, their mouths spoke out what was on their minds and hearts. In great distress, they said to Moses:
“is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14: 11-12).

Friends, do you think they were ok with their circumstances? Certainly not, look at their state of mind. We are talking about people who saw God’s salvation through ten plagues. Yet, when overcome by fear, they felt pushed to the corner. They spoke about death and burials in Egypt and seemed to prefer their old life (slavery) compared to new life of freedom. They do not seem ok by any standard.

Before we jump the gun and judge their outburst, let us examine our own hearts today! When we are overcome by worst nightmares, how would we fare? In the face of relationship meltdowns, grief, exhaustion, loneliness, how would we react? Would we find excuses or find a way to blame and complain about someone, including God? May your conscience speak to you about your true self today. In life’s journey how we process things are important and matter a lot.

Because this Exodus story, gives away two types of people on an important life journey, viz, Egyptians and Israelites. At the beginning of the story, they both begin as enemies of God, Egyptians working against God’s plan for Israelites and Israelites (who turned bitter and cold on God) by their lack of faith. But, here is the deal, by the end of the story, one group of people came to know their salvation by putting their trust in God. Imagine the faith it would take to walk through the dry land surrounded by walls of waters? If it wasn’t for trust in God’s provision, Israelites probably would not have done it.

Egyptians, on the other hand, put their trust in their own will, own strength, their own comradery, and resources. Whether it is Egyptians or Israelites, both pursued their life’s goal and kept on marching on dry land route, but the Lord intervened saving people with whom he made a promise. Even though they walked on the same path, the outcome of their journeys was extremely different. If you read between the lines, this story teaches a great deal about matters of the heart, viz, trust! That is the big difference between two groups. No wonder the text ends with these words: ‘Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.’ (Exodus 14: 31)

This confidence, that, God can save us no matter what our journey’s might entail is the gospel that shines brightly through this word. When God is with us, who shall be against us? Salvation was possible for trapped Israelites because God was with them.

In fact, the Bible could not get any clear to us on this matter. The gospel reading from John 1 explains God’s intention to journey with us. Friend, did you hear? The Word became flesh. Lord Jesus (the Word) took the ultimate journey and became man for us. As human Jesus experienced life as we know it, with its ups and downs. So that, by him we can also experience, life and future. Hear this promise in John 1: 12-13: ‘to all who did receive him (Jesus), to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision…, but born of God.’ The beauty of this message is this, God descended and became one of us to be with us in our journeys today and forever.

To lead us through dark times, to lead us out of fear of sickness, pain, suffering and death, Jesus laid down his body. He drank the cup of suffering, so that, we can come to know true peace. He bore our pain and sorrow in his body, so that, our journeys remain blessed here and in eternal life. He carried the crown of thorns to save us from our own thoughts. He gave his hands and feet, to save us from the dirty deeds of our hands and feet. Jesus gave up his side in place of every companion we have wronged. Once, Israel experienced God’s salvation through the waters of red sea giving way, but, we experience God’s salvation through Jesus, God’s Son who is with us. He poured waters of baptism on our heads. Baptism is a powerful reminder of God’s promises and commitment towards us. God’s promises in baptism saves us from sin, death, devil, and our own fallen human nature. So my friend, in times of fears, remind yourselves, like Martin Luther used to, ‘I am a baptised child of God.’ When you say that, what you mean by it is this, you will be ok, God will get you through it. For you are saved, set apart and marked by the Holy Spirit until the day of salvation.

You might know all of this in your head, but perhaps because of your situation, you might be struggling to believe with your heart, words of promise in Christ today. Let me tell you one little incident from my life as I look forward to finish today,

Long time ago, our family once got trapped in an elevator during a tour of a mine. My cousin who was a child back then was immediately overcome by fear and because of this, as children would do, he started to cry his heart out. We kept on assuring him that it will be ok, and we have communication and are talking to people and help is on the way. But, he wouldn’t listen, to his perception of the world and our words were useless to him. He was not ok, poor kid cried until the doors were opened and we were rescued. Sometimes, we behave like children when we are trapped by fear, in that moment instead of holding on to promises we give into fears. In those times let us remember the good news from Scriptures, whatever it is God has already overcome this world. Christ is still on your side. He loves you and has not abandoned you. Remember, he promised never to leave you nor forsake you.

Remember this solemn promise from the second reading for today. For what shall separate us from the love of God?

‘neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8: 38-39).

May this scripture guide the paths of your life journey today and tomorrow. So, if any asks you, ‘are you ok?’ in good faith, you might answer, yes, with Christ my saviour and Lord by my side. To God be the glory!

The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Rev. Jaswanth Kukatlapalli
Pastor at Mackay Community Lutheran Church (Mackay), and
St. Martin’s Lutheran Church (Cannonvale)
Office Address: 44-46 Wellington Street, Mackay, Queensland, 4740