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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, March 20, 2019              

Today’s Scripture Reading | Exodus 3:18; 14:15–31

They will listen to your voice; and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; let us now go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, so that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’

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. (NRSV)

Can you hear it across the millennia: the muffled cry of a people in bondage? Can you picture the people of Israel, frightened while fleeing the Egyptians who had enslaved them, but equally fearful of the uncertainty before them? And then, can you ask yourself what causes a people to set foot upon the floor of the Red Sea and walk, perilously, between two walls of water, not knowing what awaits them on the other side? Surely, for some, this was a journey toward the Promised Land. For others, it was a risky escape from slavery and persecution. It was also a test of faith in God, exemplified in Moses’ exacting obedience to God’s instructions and his belief in God’s promise. Through Moses we can reach this conclusion: God might give us a clear path through peril, but too often we focus on the peril and not God’s path. With faith, we can endure. With God, all things are possible.

In the twenty-first century, however, can the story really stop there? Or should this story also cause us to consider the more than 68 million displaced persons in the world? In 2017, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) counted 25 million refugees, 3 million asylum-seekers, and another 40 million displaced within their own countries. As humans, our minds are equipped to focus on smaller things: a single person suffering, a group close to home that is in need. But as the world grows smaller, we must also think about impossibly large numbers of people—68 million—who, like the Israelites, need a way to cross into safety. To help sharpen my own awareness of those searching for a home, I will imagine four extra words when voicing the Lord’s Prayer: Deliver us all, around the world, from evil.

Heavenly Father, help us apply the words of the prophet Isaiah in our own lives, and by your Holy Spirit, cause us to bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and provide comfort to those who mourn. Amen.

Written by Sarah Forbes Orwig, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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