About 10 years ago, I was not the person you see standing before you today. Not only was I a little larger and had more hair, but I was also someone who was hurting. I was going through a period of my life that could easily be defined as my lowest point.
The year was 2004, I was living in North Carolina, and my life was falling apart very quickly. In January, a home my first wife and I had in West Virginia was damaged during a winter storm when the water pipes burst creating a hockey rink out of the carpet. Afterwards, we received some bad advice that prevented us from getting any relief out of the situation. In March, my first wife left me with a phone call and a note on the refrigerator door. It ended a bad relationship that was defined more by our inability to communicate than by our love for one another. By October, I was sitting with my attorney in a federal courthouse in Raleigh, N.C., describing my financial situation and why I was filing bankruptcy.
It was an awful year and I had more problems and pains than I could account for. To be honest, I needed help and knew I needed to do something to get through this season of life. So, I tried to get help by throwing myself into anything I could. I found a West Virginia University Alumni chapter that became a place of Saturday afternoon refuge from what was going on at home. I threw all my energy into a political campaign I was working on. I thought if we won, which we did, that I would feel better. No matter what I tried what often happened was that I only compounded the pain. I made it worst. I was still hurting. I could not save myself.
I tell you this story because I believe all of us, at one point or another, have attempted to save ourselves from our problems and pains. Whether it was a problem at home, something involving our finances, or an issue in our personal lives we have all likely tried to solve them with the mentality that all we need to move forward was “our own two hands and feet.” Through our words and actions, we often believe that help, truly salvation, only comes when we do something about our problems or help ourselves.
Why is that do you believe? Why is it that we often believe the only way out of our problems is through our own effort? I wonder if it is because we believe our problems are too big for God or that we are beyond God’s willingness to help us. Sometimes we act as though God will not be there for us in our pain, through our problems, or in the places of deep stress for us.
Yet, the story of God’s love is a story of something much different than that. The story of God’s love is the story of salvation and free grace. It is the story of how God breaks into the places of pain and hurt in our lives and replace it with a new way forward. It is the story of how God comes between us and the things that desire to harm us and offers us a new life. It is the story of redemption and second, third, fourth, and fifth chances.
God’s salvation and his willingness to offer us second, third, fourth, and fifth chances is the story of Exodus. Our journey through Exodus takes us, this morning, to the exodus and the moment when Israel’s salvation is secured through the parting of the Red Sea and the defeat of the Egyptian army. It is the moment when we see God’s redemption of Israel take shape and they receive God’s gift of a new way forward of a new life defined by God’s love and grace.
This story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt is the most important narrative in the Old Testament. However, a few verses before our passage begins you would think that maybe all was lost for Israel. That is because the Egyptian army is nearing them as they approach the Red Sea. Israel’s journey began when Pharaoh agreed to let Moses take the Israelites out of Egypt and into the promised land following the death of all the firstborn males in Egypt. After Israel had left the Pharaoh had a change of heart and decided to send his army after Israel to likely eliminate them.
It is at this moment the Israelites begin to believe they were doomed and trapped. How were they going to overtake the massive Egyptian army? Even more, how are they going to get away with the Red Sea separating them from where they want to go? They likely feel that all is lost. It is a similar feeling that we have, sometimes, when we think about our pains and problems or the things that seek to control our lives. We begin to feel like there is no hope or any way we can get out of these issues and see anything different. When these feelings start to take over us what often follows is our desire to give up. We start to believe that there is no hope, no joy, no peace, and no love available for us.
With God, though, we experience something else. When we reach this moment and feeling like there is no hope that is when God moves into action. That is what happens at the Red Sea. God moves into the situation – the feeling of despair, the feeling that Israel would never be saved – and offers a new way forward and a new reality of life. Through the pillar of cloud, God moves in between Israel and the Egyptian army. God moves in right in the middle of Israel’s fear and between them and the ones who seek to harm them. What happens is that God provides something of a barrier between Israel and Egypt that gives them protection and prevents Egypt from having an edge over them. God comes in and places himself right into the middle of Israel’s hurt – the feeling that Egypt would soon win the day- and starts to create a new way forward and new way of life. God comes to redeem and save the people of Israel.
This is just what God does for each of us. God moves in right into the middle of our deepest hurts and pains. God places himself right in the middle of our biggest problems, our strongest temptations, and the things that seek to control over our lives in order to offer us something new and better. God is not absent from us in our troubles. God is right there seeking to bring us into a new reality of his loving and saving grace.
A new life that is seen as God shows us what this way forward looks like. For Israel, the way forward was through the parting of the Red Sea. God tells Moses to lift his shaft and uses that action to bring forth an eastwardly wind that raises the sea’s water creating something like a wall and a safe passage for Israel. On the other side waiting for Israel was a new hope and a new beginning. A new life defined not by enslavement but of a life lived with the Lord in a place of their own. A new life built upon faith, peace, hope, and love. A new life in relationship with the Lord. A new life that awaited them as they walked through the middle of the Red Sea and into the hope God has for them.
God comes in the midst of our chaos and shows us the way forward, so that we may experience our own exodus away from our pains, difficulties, and the things that control our lives. God seeks to show us a new life that is built on the foundation of God’s love and our faith in the Lord. God comes in and offers salvation. In the midst of our worries, anxieties, doubts, and fears, God comes in and shows us the way forward of a new life of peace. Where we often believe that things we have done wrong might prevent us from seeing God’s love, God comes in and offers his grace freely to us no matter what we have done. Where we are often controlled by the things of this world – career, finances, etc. – God comes in and helps to break free from the things that try to enslave us today. God comes in and offers us a new life.
This way forward is the story of salvation written by the life of Christ exhibited through Jesus’ death on the cross. God came in the person of Jesus Christ to show us the way to a new life and a new hope for all. The cross is the means for our exodus and our salvation. On the cross, Jesus offered every person the chance to experience an exodus away from our pasts, our fears, and our struggles and into a new life defined by God’s hope, peace, joy, and love.
The amazing thing about this story of salvation is there is nothing we have to do to earn this grace. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. We no longer need to believe it is up to us to redeem our pasts, to break free our chains, and to restore our lives. We cannot do redeem ourselves. Only God can redeem us. The great news is that God wants to do exactly that. God wants to offers us a new life, a new, hope, and a new reality through trusting in the grace and presence of Jesus in our lives.
In a moment, we will partake in communion together. At the table, we are reminded that God’s salvation is a gift given to us all. The bread reminds us of how Jesus willingly gave of himself for our pasts, our problems, and the things that control us. The juice, symbolic of Christ’s blood, reminds us that Jesus’ grace washes away all sins and points us into the direction of a new life and a new way forward. It is a meal that reminds of how far God was willing to go to give us a new life.
The story of Exodus is our story. It is our story of salvation and the story of how God redeems. God is still at work redeeming us. God is in our lives. He is in our pains. He is in our hurts. He is in the places that controls us. He is in those things in order to redeem us. God wants to redeem you and me, so that we may experience a new life and to live into the new reality defined by hope, peace, joy, and love.
We can experience our own exodus and live into the new life God offers us today. Will we, then, walk towards the path God has shown us and accept God’s love and allow the free gift of salvation to redefine who we are today, tomorrow, and everyday?