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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

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)

The notion of an all-controlling God, meting out justice and vengeance, concerned with claiming victory over human beings—this is a conceptualization of our creator that troubles me. I would much rather focus on the loving and giving Jesus, who comes and lays down his own life for us—a peaceful model for my own life, an inoffensive expression of God’s presence in a broken world. Is this not the type we prefer as the focus of our Lenten reflections?

And yet, in the Exodus story, we encounter a God who is willing to intervene in powerful and mysterious ways: speaking out of a burning bush, casting down plagues on unrepentant rulers, changing the course of the seas, overthrowing invincible armies. Even from the beginning, it is clear that God’s intent in the story is to proclaim to all people, “I AM who I AM.”

Karl Barth reminded us that prayer, a practice we often use to observe Lent, is not “an exercise in the cultivation of the soul or spirit, i.e., the attempt to intensify and deepen ourselves, to purify and cleanse ourselves inwardly, to attain clarity and self-control.” Prayer and our various forms of devotion to God during Lent are not, in the end, about what they do for us. They are, just like the fantastic and disturbing story of Exodus, about revealing one who proclaims, “I AM who I AM,” and wrestling faithfully with our God.

Almighty and merciful God, God of the servant Christ, of the burning bush, of the Israelites’ victory over the Egyptians, during this season of Lent, help me to encounter you as you are. Help me to turn away from the false images of what I would prefer you to be. Bring me into the energizing and wondrous—even the perplexing—awareness of your glory. Amen.

Written by Hardy H. Kim, Associate Pastor for Evangelism

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