How God Makes a Way Out of No Way
When we encounter obstacles faith can feel foolish, as if we have been duped by God and now we are trapped. This sermon on Exodus 14 about the crossing of the Red Sea reminds us that God makes a way out of no way. Eventually, we find ourselves on the other side of our problems and realize God was with us the whole time. When you feel overwhelmed, pause, and remember God’s care for you and then step forward in faith. Faith is not in vain, it is what propels us into a great future.
Pharaoh says, “Scram!” before he recants.
The Hebrew people were finally escaping the nasty old Pharaoh and leaving the pyramids behind. God had heard their cries and then sent Moses to Pharaoh, demanding that he set the people free. But Pharaoh was a tough nut to crack. The text said he had a hard heart. He refused to let the people go. Finally, after the tenth plague, he said, “Scram.”
Before the Hebrews left, there was this fantastic payment (Exodus12:35-36) of what scholars describe as reparations. The Egyptian people lavished gifts and wealth to the Hebrews. It provided some sense of closure and healing as the Hebrew people started a long journey toward the promised land, led by a fiery pillar in front of them.
Finally, they were free from the nightmare of slavery that had lasted for 400 years. Free at last, free at last. They thanked God Almighty. They were free at last. But Pharaoh realized all the money he was losing by letting the people go, and his heart hardened.
Hard hearts cause misery.
An odd refrain reverberates throughout Exodus about Pharaoh’s hard heart. It keeps saying that God hardened his heart. Scholars say this is a literary device to show that Pharaoh is not as big and bad as he thinks he is. Exodus is trying to say, not only is he not a god, he doesn’t even have agency over his own heart. The point is not to place your hope in the tyrannical rulers of this world. Instead, put it on Yahweh, the great “I Am,” who is large and in charge, the king above all kings.
But don’t let the literary device throw you. Pharaoh’s heart was plenty hard all by itself. He was indifferent to the suffering of those who were not of his race. He prioritized his greed and comfort over the misery of others. Like Pharaoh, if we stew in those attitudes, our hearts also harden. And a hard heart is the root of all types of callousness and ultimately it leads to our demise–ask Pharaoh.
Let me ask, “Is your heart opening or hardening right now? How do you feel about people who are in need, people with problems, people who do desperate things because of their situation? What is your take on people who aren’t like you?” This story is a chance for you to reflect and see if you don’t need to make a course correction, and soften your heart, build empathy, listen to the experiences of others and respond as compassionately as you can.
The Hebrews felt betrayed by Moses and God.
Shortly after the Hebrews departed Pharaoh flip-flopped. He could not let the people go. He ordered his army to round up the Hebrews and bring them back into slavery.
As the army drew near, the Hebrews sensed the jig was up. They assumed the army came not to round them up but to exterminate them. The sea trapped them from the front and the army pursuing from behind. Panicked, they blamed Moses with venomous sarcasm.
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.”
They wonder how they could have let themselves get duped into following Moses and his thinking that God cared about their liberation. I think at some points on the faith journey, we all have moments where we feel like the whole faith enterprise is just a gigantic let-down. The spiritual journey often feels like one step forward, three steps back.
What to do when you feel “duped” by faith.
Once I got involved in a legal dispute. I knew in my bones what justice would look like. I prayed and trusted God would make sure the right thing happened. But the judgment came out way different than I had imagined. I remember thinking, “C’mon God. Really? I pray, and I sacrifice. I do what you call me to do, and you can’t do me a solid on this one? What’s the point? What good is faith?”
From your experience, what do you do when you feel betrayed by God? What happens when you can identify with the Hebrews trapped between a past they can’t get back to and a future that portends disaster? The Hebrews complained and took it out on Moses. Clearly, the story is saying that when you feel betrayed by God that there is something better to do than whine and turn on other people and give up on God.
Sometimes things don’t turn out our way. That’s life for all of us. When we are going through a time of disappointment, we look at it as if under a microscope, our pain and distress are all we can see. But if we widen our view, we will eventually find something that is still good, still worth living for, still worth sacrificing to achieve.
After my disappointment, I had to be reminded that faith isn’t a magical amulet that protects us from horrible situations. It’s a presence that gets us through the injustices and aggravation the world brings. Faith draws attention to all who suffer injustices—far worse than I experienced and it gets us off the sidelines to work for a better world. Faith connects us to others in an authentic supportive community. It cares about those who suffer. Faith shows us a way to live.
Take the long view. God didn’t bring you this far to abandon you.
After Moses hears their complaints, he bolsters them up. “Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm. . . God’s work continues. “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
If you have a Bible, underline that verse. I’m sure it applies to someone hearing this today. Is it you? Do not be afraid, stand firm. God isn’t finished. The Lord will fight for you–not against you. God is fighting for you to be your best, to overcome your fears, to do what you know in your heart is right. God is fighting for all who struggle and suffer. What if everyone who needed to hear this message could hear it. God, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the undisputed champion of the universe fights for the poor, the mistreated, the distressed, the oppressed people of the world.
Let this message absorb into your bones. Instead of freaking out, getting all worked up, and turning sarcastic, just keep still. Be still in your heart. Slow down that racing mind of worry and distraction. Trust. God is fighting for you.
Moses’s message to the Hebrews applies to us. God did not bring us this far to abandon us now.
Why do you cry out?
When God hears the people complaining and sees them turn on Moses, God asks Moses, “Why do they cry out?” Didn’t they see those wonders? What did they think that was about? I manifested ten wonders: water to blood, frogs, locusts, boils, Passover, and all the rest. Ten times and you think I’m going to leave you out here to die so that the story ends in tragedy? Ten times I displayed my intent but at the first hint of adversity, you bail out on me!”
That is the issue for us too, isn’t it? We look around and see God’s wonders all the time—the glory of the night sky, the innocent face of a child. On some level, we know how blessed we are, but the next time we have something bad happen in our lives that makes us feel trapped, we cry out and feel like fools for having believed. We mumble and grumble and want to throw in the towel on faith. And God wonders, “Why do you cry out this way? C’mon man. I’ve got you.”
Moving Forward After the Pause
It took guts for the Israelites to stand still while Pharaoh’s chariots thundered toward them. And just when all seems lost, Moses follows God’s command and stretches out his hand (presumably with the staff) and the waters part.
It always looks so dramatic in the movies. The Exodus movie, Gods and Kings adds about a dozen tornados dropping from the sky for extra flair. Whatever really happened may not have been as dramatic as the movies or even the Bible describes. Written centuries after the original event, the story in Exodus may have taken dramatic license to underscore the main point–that the freedom the Israelites enjoyed came from God’s saving activity. Once they were doomed but God made a way.
When there is no way, God makes a way out of no way.
Faith isn’t just about standing still. It’s about moving forward. The big take away for our lives is that God makes a way when it seems there is no way. It doesn’t mean magical solutions, but a way to go forward with integrity.
Jesus showed us the way. He said, “I am the way. . .” He shows us how to live no matter the circumstances. To live the way of compassion, of gratitude, of prayer, of loving-kindness. Whenever you feel stuck in life, go back to the basics of the way of living that Jesus taught, and eventually, you’ll find your way to where you need to go.
God’s got your back
One cool detail in the story is about how the people had been led by a fiery pillar until they got to the sea. Did you see the images of the firenado in Northern California this week? Maybe it was something like that. We don’t know. The pillar had always been leading them, but when they began crossing the sea, the pillar was behind them. It protected them from the advancing Egyptians. It’s a literal God’s got your back message.
You’ve heard that line in the movies and cop shows. One partner advances, trusting that the other one is watching out for them, covering them from behind. Moving forward in life, moving toward your goals, doing what you believe in your heart to be right is easier when you understand that God’s got your back. So why live your life in fear when you don’t need to? The God who makes a way out of no way has got your back!
Pharaoh’s army drowns.
The water walled up and the people walked through but when the Egyptians pursue them the technology of the army defeats itself. The wheels of the chariots get bogged down, the weight of the weapons slows them down and they ultimately are destroyed in the waters. The story reminds us that there is a God who stands above any kingdom, or technology, or power of this earth. Where will we pledge our allegiance? In the trappings of the world, or in the God who enables us to pass on dry ground?
All of those voices that had risen up in protest on one side of the sea, began to sing and praise again on the other side of the sea. God had taken the side of the poor and the oppressed, the ones who cry out and acted decisively in human history to show that the ways of mercy, forgiveness, and treating each person as a person of infinite value and sacred worth win out over all powers. Pharaoh and his armies don’t stand a chance because God’s victory is over all powers that be.
We keep asking about the Exodus stories three questions. First, “What does this story say about God?” God is fighting for us and all who are hurting. God seeks our liberation and provides a way out of no way. When we feel trapped by situations in life. By losing a job, by frustrations in our family, by choices that don’t have a clear right or wrong, or by a pandemic, we can take comfort that God provides a way out of no way.
The second question. What does it say about human nature? We can be like Pharaoh, placing our greed above the conditions of other people It says we are inclined to panic and sarcasm and giving up on faith at the slightest whiff of trouble. That’s why it’s important to keep a larger perspective of our blessings and the good things faith provides. A way of living. The way of peace, of love, of compassion and trust that God makes a way out of no way–especially in the darkest moments.
The third question, “What claim does this story make on our lives?” It’s the ultimate reminder to trust in God—especially in difficult times. And it reminds us that God’s fight for true freedom and liberation and justice for all people is ongoing and we are called to align ourselves with what is most compassionate. May it be so for us. Amen.
Sermon by Rev. Dr. David J. Clark preached for Bay Shore Community Congregational Church (UCC) in Long Beach, California.