Sermon 28 Sept. 2014: “O Mary Don’t You Weep – Exodus and God’s Freedom”

Text: Exodus 14:10-14; 21-29

Note: Rather than read the story this week, I decided to do a little interactive storytelling.  Hopefully you get a sense of what we did; we sang various African-American spirituals responsively in order to tell the story….so if you’re reading along here, feel free to sing them to yourself if you know them!

Last week, we were in Genesis, talking about Joseph.  The rest of Joseph’s story is that he goes from being thrown in prison by his master – on his master’s wife’s lie – to being Pharoah’s second in command.  Joseph becomes the equivalent of the Secretary of Agriculture, and manages the food supply so that Egypt’s people survive a 7-year famine.  It’s a famine that affects Joseph’s family – and eventually, his brothers come looking for food. Joseph is reunited with his family and they are accepted by Pharaoh to live together in the Egypt.

But time has passed.  And the book of Exodus opens with this: “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.  He said to his people, “Look, the Israelites are more numerous and powerful than we.  Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will in crease, and in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” (Exodus 1:7)  And “deal shrewdly” meant: slavery.  Hard, long years of slavery, and the suffering that came with it.  And the Israelites cried out, and God heard.

Now we still have a lot of the story to cover – about 13 chapters worth.  So I’m going to need your help.  Because we have to do this in about 2 minutes or less. (I sang the plain text; people sang the bold text)

When Israel was in Egypt’s Land, Let my people go.
Oppressed so hard they could not stand, Let my people go.
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land.  Tell old Pharaoh, Let my people go.

Thus says the Lord bold Moses said, Let my people go.
If not, I’ll kill your firstborn dead, Let my people go.
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land.  Tell old Pharaoh, Let my people go.

No more shall they in bondage toil, Let my people go.
Let them come out with Egypt’s spoil, Let my people go.
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s Land.  Tell old Pharaoh, let my people go.

And go down Moses did….and the people were let go.  The masses of people, leaving Egypt, celebrating their freedom – Pharaoh had let them go.

That takes us to today’s story: Chapter 14 of Exodus. And this story, it’s familiar to most of you….the parting of the Red Sea.  So I thought rather than just read it, let’s hear it a different way.  And so, verse 10: 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.  You can imagine what that cry sounded like: Fear.  Dread. Weeping, perhaps. An army approaching, threatening to kill them.  But Moses reassures them. Verse 13: “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.”

O Mary don’t you weep no more.  O Mary don’t you weep no more, Pharaoh’s army got drownded, O Mary don’t you weep.

God promises to protect and deliver the Israelites; and he does so that day. He gives Moses the power to part the Red Sea….

Moses stood on the Red Sea shore, struck that water with a two by four.  Pharaoh’s army got drownded, O Mary don’t you weep….

O Mary don’t you weep no more.  O Mary don’t you weep no more, Pharaoh’s army got drownded, O Mary don’t you weep.

God did more than that.  In verse 24: He sent a pillar of fire and cloud that “thew the Egyptian army in a panic.” And in verse 25, “He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty.”  And while this was happening, the Israelites; the people “wade in the water,” walking across dry land.

Wade in the water, wade in the water children, wade in the water, God’s a gonna trouble the water.

See that band all dressed in red, God’s a gonna trouble the water.
looks like the band that Moses led, God’s a gonna trouble the water.

Wade in the water, wade in the water children, wade in the water, God’s a gonna trouble the water.

God troubles those waters….Moses parts the Red Sea, and after Israel’s safe on the other side, God drowns Pharaoh’s army; God drowns the threat for good. No more slavery, no more oppression, and O Mary, don’t don’t you weep no more.  And I think that really is good news.  It’s comforting to know that God is a God that “leads us not into temptation, but delivers us from evil” as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.  God frees us from all things…and I think we like that message. We’re free.

But I wonder for us today, what does it mean to be free? I think the notion of slavery, the kind the Israelites were under, is difficult to us to imagine, living in America today.  We’d have to go back to the Civil War era to recapture any reality of slavery, or maybe more recently, Jim Crow laws of the South & the Civil Rights era of the 1960’s…but even that is 50 years ago.

So what does freedom mean to us today?

I think in this country, for us, freedom is equated with “unlimited choice.”  We can do what we want, say what we want.  We think of freedom as the preservation of OUR civil liberties, OUR rights, OUR choices….freedom is the ability to have control over our own lives and how we to live it.

But I wonder, is that really freedom?  Because if that’s the case, then the story of the Red Sea wouldn’t have happened the way we hear it.  Because when faced with the Egyptian armies, the Israelites cry out, verse 11: “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, bring 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.” Given the “freedom” to choose, Israel, God’s people would’ve chosen to go back to Egypt, back into a life of slavery.  Better to die a slave, a familiar life, than to die out here in the great unknown.  Better to return to Egypt.

But God leads the people to a different vision of freedom: God leads them through the parted waters of the Red Sea to the other side – a life in the wilderness.  And they can’t go back; because God closes those parted waters up – putting to death the Egyptian army that pursued them.  And, as the story goes, for the next 40 years the Israelites will wander in the wilderness before ever reaching the Promised Land.  But they do so truly free – placing their trust and faith in God to lead them, and provide them, and ultimately, lead them into the Promised Land.

In other words, true freedom is about a relationship – a relationship of faith and trust in another, with another…..in God.

And maybe, just maybe, that’s a better life after all – God’s delivered us from our tendency to “return to Egypt,” to a life of controlling everyone and everything – and in the process end up being controlled by it all.   God frees us so completely, so that life isn’t simply about choosing not to be skeptical, cynical; to not live in hate, fear and mistrust of everyone and everything…….he’s eliminated the possibility of it altogether.  Perhaps because he knows we like it a little too much….and we’ll return there time and time again.  God’s puts to death any reliance on our freedom to choose, and instead leads us to a life where we trust others, have faith in others, and even rely on others, rather than ourselves.

Now maybe our stubborn selves mourn such a notion – our loss of personal “freedom.”  But God’s freedom is tied to a promise – a life of faith and trust and love that’s better than anything we could choose or make on our own.  God has delivered us, no turning back, and perhaps that’s a reason to rejoice…no more weeping, no more mourning.  And we’re truly free.  And perhaps that means time for one more song:

Oh, Mary don’t you weep, don’t you mourn. Oh Mary don’t you weep don’t you mourn. Pharaoh’s army got drownded.  Oh Mary don’t you weep.

Brothers and sisters don’t you cry
There’ll be good times by and by,
Pharaoh’s army got drownded, O Mary don’t you weep.

Oh, Mary don’t you weep, don’t you mourn. Oh Mary don’t you weep don’t you mourn. Pharaoh’s army got drownded.  Oh Mary don’t you weep.

Amen.

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