I went for a walk today. I was stunned to witness summer and autumn meeting in the streets. The sun was hot and the air hazy and humid. Yet, the ever-present Minnesota wind promised cooler days ahead. The leaves of the cottonwoods and maples were still mostly green, but the splashes of red and yellow were vibrant and unmissable. The sidewalks were littered with newly browned leaves that crackled underfoot and more tumbled lazily to the ground as I walked. To move through this intersection of seasons was a gift. To notice how summer is slowly giving way to autumn and how gracefully nature accepts this change was a blessing.
I didn’t walk today for my usual reason of raising my sluggish heartrate for at least thirty minutes. Instead my walk was an effort to find refuge from the storm of hatred that seems to have settled in and taken over everything. I had started to write my reflections on the Exodus story of the parting of the Red Sea when I noticed the pounding in my head, directly above my right eye. The pain kept the beat as echoes of the hateful comments on my most resent video episode played through my head. If people responded with vitriolic and violent words to my statement that God does not control the weather or use it to get our attention or to punish us, then what would be the response to saying that the parting of the Red Sea most likely didn’t happen the way it has been written? Could I write something that could incite more vitriol? There’s enough hate spewing forth from the fingers of anonymous cyberspace dwellers. I don’t want to draw more of it out.
Then I went for a walk. I saw the stunning beauty in the late summer flowers and the early autumn leaves. I smelled the fallen leaves as they turned to dust under my feet. The pain throbbing in my head lessened. The hate-filled voices quieted. Just because people do not accept change as easily as the natural world, doesn’t mean that the slow transformation from fear-filled to love-based faith won’t continue. It is possible that one day all will recognize that God loves us and does not orchestrate the happenings of the natural world to cause us pain or punish is. It is possible that one day all will accept LGBTQ+ people as beloved children of God. It is possible that someday we will rejoice in wonder and beauty of the whole human race and celebrate how God is reflected in each face. It is possible that one day we will be free from this bizarre desire to read and interpret scripture as if it were a book of facts rather than a collection of spiritual truths human beings have encountered in their search for God.
Now I’m going to say it. I don’t believe that God slaughtered the whole of Pharoah’s army any more than I believe God is sending massive storms, floods, fires, or famine to wipe out parts of countries around the globe. Would it have appeared this way to the Israelites? Of course. Only an act of God could free people from oppression in Egypt. The important thing is that the Israelites experienced liberation and were thankful for a God who loved them enough to stay with them through captivity, into liberation, and beyond. It’s a great story. And those of us of a certain age will always think of Charlton Heston when this story comes up. But a story told from the perspective of the Israelites isn’t the only way to tell the story. They told it in a way that affirmed the power and presence of their God over and above all other Gods. It’s not wrong; it’s just not likely factual. I’d bet the Egyptians would have a very different version of events…
That’s not what’s important, though. From a mythic, spiritual truth position the story speaks of a God who desires liberation for God’s people. God’s steadfast love held onto God’s people through the oppression, into liberation, and held them firmly through transformation and its aftermath.
This makes sense in today’s context where a God who murders entire armies doesn’t. God seeks liberation for the oppressed. God’s steadfast love holds us through all time, places, and circumstances. God does not ever seek to cause harm to any of creation, including human beings. God does not value violence and hatred and does not bring about circumstances that result in either one. If it is not an act full of love, forgiveness, and mercy, it is not from God. It’s that simple. There is no longer need to attribute anything else to God, especially when we realize how much hatred and violence is a direct consequence of human activity.
Pharaoh’s army is alive and thriving on our fear, distrust, and hatred of each other. Isn’t it time we all join together and assist in the liberation of all God’s people?
RCL – Year A – Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 17, 2017
Exodus 14:19-31 with Psalm 114
or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21
Genesis 50:15-21 with Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13