A Sermon to Honor our Local Firefighters and Rescue Squad on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.” 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. 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.
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. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 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. He clogged 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.” 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.” 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. 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. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 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.
Israel’s escape across the Red Sea is a great story.
Who grew up watching the Cecil B DE Mille version of “The Ten Commandments?”
One of the greatest scenes in cinematic history is Moses holding up his staff- the wind blowing through his long beard in that big red robe… You see the clouds rolling in from both sides of the screen as the hand of God prepares to move… and thunder cracks and the waters part… and all the Hebrews shouting and going “ohhh,” “oooo” (the background sound track is hilarious in that movie)
Who didn’t watch opened mouthed every time as the tribe of freed slaves crossed on dry land just ahead of Pharaoh’s chariots! And Yule Brenner at the end of the scene hunching over with his wrists together in defeat… “curses!!” Fantastic!
And on a day like today, when we are remembering the 9/11 attacks on our own nation… and we read or see a story like this, we tend to project a bit.
I mean, we’re the good guys… right? No matter whom the enemy is. We’re God’s people! And we could certainly read it that way. We love it when God wipes out our enemies. ‘They got what they deserved those dastardly Egyptians’… or, fill in the blank with your own enemy of choice. ‘Drown, Egyptians! Drown! Ha Ha!’
Yep, that is certainly one way to read this passage… that God takes sides- and if God is on your side, you have nothing to worry about. Works for me… cause… God is surely on OUR side… and all of those not on God’s side… well… look at those chariots.
Nothing like a little motivation to always stay on the right side of God... for sure… gimme a list of what I have to do, and I’ll do it! Cause I don’t want to end up at the bottom of the sea somewhere! I want to be behind Moses singing on the rock! High ground! Dry Land! Victorious!
But what if there is more to this story than meets the eye. What if this story has survived thousands of years and endless translations for some other reason than to scare and intimidate us into believing… and panicking and about whether or not God is going to be with us… or them…
What if the focus of this story is not on the fact that “Hey! God wiped out the enemy!” In actuality, Egypt survived this little blink in history, minus a few casualties, quite nicely. In fact, they continued as a world superpower for some centuries to come…
What if instead, the focus of this passage is about God’s ability to make a way for us in seemingly impossible situations? What if it’s about God providing a way out, even when our it seems like our lives are on the line, and we are backed up against the sea with nowhere to go?
“Well, of course it’s about that Pastor! The people had faith and they called on God and God showed up… that’s how it works!”
Really? I didn’t notice anywhere in what we just read (or even what we saw) that the people in this scene turned to God to do a miracle… this little group of God followers never really asked God to help them at that moment… there were no prayers going up in droves…
Not that Moses didn’t try to convince them to keep believing through what looked like an impossible situation, but if you saw what I did, then you saw a lot of screaming and crying and “holy (beeeeep)” kind of reaction.
Plain and simple, fear overtook the people… beliefs or not… and fear wiped out the heartfelt, prayerful response that we would look for in this situation, especially from a people of God. You would think that since God had just released them from hundreds of years of captivity, another feat that they thought was impossible, that they would have had a little more trust.
But the ancient Hebrew, soon to be nation of Israel, were more like us than we like to admit. It’s not that we don’t believe. It’s not that we don’t trust in the God who promises to be with us through every situation. It’s just that when we are in the midst of a scary situation, we respond humanly… we panic… we buy in to the terror that is in front of us.
Firefighters and rescue quad workers, you see this all the time, don’t you? When you arrive on the scene of a house fire, or an accident, or any number of scary situations… you know what that fear looks like, don’t you? And I know as part of your training you are taught to be the presence of calm in a fearful situation.
The Hebrews saw the chariots racing toward them. They panicked! Then God sent a first responder… a pillar of fire to keep the chariots back. Fear was lessened. God sent a cloud as a guide ahead of them… their fears lessened. But then the people were backed up to the sea… the chariots continued… the people panicked again… God parted the waters… and with a final broad stroke to end their fear… God destroyed the immediate threat.
Are you beginning to understand? That even in the midst of fear, even before we remember “oh yeah, we should pray for God to help us,” God has already shown up… God has already been involved working in ways we can’t see because we are too busy panicking. And if we are willing to notice it, God sends in a first responder. Something or someone to lessen our fear and remind us that God is with us.
That fateful day 10 years ago, the first responders on the scene of what is now Ground Zero were that sign… When we watched on TV a seemingly impossible situation, and were surrounded by a flood of helplessness and panic.
But then the firefighters and rescue workers arrived on the scene of the twin towers, our panic was slightly lessened… something bigger was happening… someone was doing something… Someone was there in the midst of disaster… helping the victims, yes…. But also reassuring millions watching around the world that compassion and caring can’t be wiped out in terror; that there was something present that morning that was stronger than fear!
The people sitting in our sanctuary with us today, our own first responders, are for this community that same sign. They are the ones, in the midst of an emergency situation, when panic is in full bloom, which represent something stronger than fear…. They are the ones who walk strongly in the midst of and despite fear.
And that is called Godly presence. In seemingly impossible situations, you are our own God sent, “pillar of fire” no pun intended… it just works with the story…
And I understand those of you who are squirming at that thought. You are not comfortable with that tag… being someone’s reminder of a Godly presence. Too much to live up to?
Well, you can play that card… but let me assure you, that when someone in the midst of fear sees one or more of you rushing in to help… like it or not, that is exactly what you are. You are the reassurance that compassion and caring are stronger than our fear- you risk your lives proving that every time you answer a call.
And, if it makes you feel better, we are all, at one time or another, called to be that presence in someone’s life. God uses anything and anyone God chooses to carry the presence of the Holy Spirit into every situation. Even you.
And when we are backed up against the sea, and the thunder cracks and the sound of approaching chariots sends us into a panic… before we think to pray… before we notice the clouds rolling in as the hand of God prepares to move… the sight of that first pillar firefighter, or guiding rescue squad member, is as miraculous to us as the parting of the sea!
Thank you for allowing God to use you. Thank you from this community for being a stellar example of compassion and service. God bless you…