The God Who Parts the Sea

Meditation on Exodus 14:19-31

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812

Pastor Karen Crawford

Sept. 13, 2020

We passed another milestone this week on Friday; it’s been 19 years since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Can you believe it’s been that long? Some people were talking on Facebook about where they were on that day. Do you remember where you were?

I was a religion reporter for the York Daily Record in York, PA. More than 3,000 people lost their lives when al Qaeda hijackers flew airplanes into the Pentagon and World Trade Center. More than 6,000 people were injured. While no good can possibly come from an act of terrorism and that day forever changed how we would live, we can say that terrible day brought Americans closer together in their shared grief, horror, and yes, fear. I remember people calling their family and friends to tell them they loved them, American flags flying everywhere, and people whispering, “God bless America” as a prayer. People started calling me at the newspaper, asking questions like, “Is it Armageddon?” People who had fallen away from the faith, came back to church, seeking the Lord.

One of the miracles of that day was that most of the tens of thousands of people who typically worked in the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were able to escape. Many more lives could have been lost. And on that day of the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history, more than a few ordinary people became heroes.  

Here’s a story of one of them from “7 Incredible Stories of Heroism on 911,” Business Insider, 9/11/2017:

“Just a few minutes after United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center, 24-year-old Welles Crowther called his mother and calmly left a voicemail: ‘Mom, this is Welles. I want you to know that I’m ok.’

“Crowther was an equities trader at Sandler O’Neil and Partners on the 104th floor. But after that call, the man who was a volunteer firefighter in his teens made his way down to the 78th floor sky lobby and became a hero to strangers known only as ‘the man in the red bandana.’

“Amid the smoke, chaos and debris, Crowther helped injured and disoriented office workers to safety, risking his own life in the process. Though they couldn’t see much through the haze, those he saved recalled a tall figure wearing a red bandana to shield his lungs and mouth.

“… In what’s been described as a “strong, authoritative voice,” Crowther directed survivors to the stairway and encouraged them to help others while he carried an injured woman on his back. After bringing her 15 floors down to safety, he made his way back up to help others.”

“Everyone who can stand, stand now,” Crowther told survivors while directing them to a stairway exit. “If you can help others, do so.”

Crowther is credited with saving at least a dozen people that day.

And another hero story of 911:

“Rick Rescorla was already a hero of the battlefields of Vietnam, where he earned the Silver Star and other awards for his exploits as an Army officer. Rescorla, who had been featured on the cover of the book We Were Soldiers Once…And Young,” would often sing to his men to calm them down while under fire, using songs of his youth while growing up in the United Kingdom. Many more in the South Tower would hear his songs on September 11, where Rescorla was working as head of corporate security for Morgan Stanley.

When American Flight 11 hit the tower next to him, Port Authority ordered Rescorla to keep his employees at their desks, but Rescorla who had frequently warned the Port Authority and his company about the World Trade Center’s security weaknesses, had already issued the order to evacuate. He had made Morgan Stanley employees practice emergency drills for years, and
it paid off that day: Just 16 minutes after the first plane hit the opposite tower, more than 2,700 employees and visitors were out when the second plane hit their building.”

We remember an ancient battle in our passage in Exodus 14 today. This battle and the victory belonged to the Lord. After the 10th plague is visited on his people and the firstborn children die, Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron in the night and orders them, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord, as you said.”

The Israelites are about 600,000 thousand men and women, traveling on foot, plus children and flocks and herds. They journey from Rameses to Succoth with their unleavened dough and gifts from the Egyptians who oppressed them—gold and silver jewelry and clothing. God doesn’t lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, though that was nearer. God reveals his reasoning, saying, ‘If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.’ So the Lord leads them by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. God goes in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, to give them light. They travel by day and by night.

Then the Lord warns Moses that he is going to harden Pharaoh’s heart. He and his armies will pursue them. This is God’s doing! Why? He wanted the Israelites to cross the Red Sea. He has a miracle planned! In 14:4, God explains, “so that I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.”

When the Israelites look back and see Pharaoh and his foot soldiers, officers, and 600 “chosen” chariot drivers advancing on them, they cry out in fear to the Lord. And they turn on their leader, Moses. Suddenly the past is looking good.

“Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” the Israelites want to know. “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 die in the wilderness.”

Moses says, “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. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

The God Who Parts the Sea

Everything happens as the Lord has said. Moses lifts his staff and stretches out his hand over the sea. “The Lord (drives) the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turn(s) the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided.” The Israelites cross and the Egyptian soldiers follow. But at the morning watch, the Egyptian army sees the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looking down on them—and what a sight it must be! It throws them into a panic, and as they are panicking, their chariot wheels get clogged.

Nothing good ever comes from panic, does it?

The Egyptians try to flee, but the Lord tells Moses to stretch out his hand, once again. And the army and the Pharaoh are swept away by the waters of the sea.

Israel comes together in their joy over God’s victory. And they fear the Lord, believe in the Lord, and believe in his servant Moses. The prophet, Miriam, Aaron’s sister, dances, sings and plays the tambourine and the women join her in song.

The Israelites’ joy and faith in God and Moses are short-lived. Their doubts and fears, complaining and blaming will return when they encounter more trials in the wilderness.

I don’t have to tell you, friends, that we are going through trials as a nation. We are, aren’t we? Doubts and fears, complaining and blaming are the reality for the society in which we live.

You who have come today have a special calling to share your hope in Christ with those who feel their hope slipping away. You who have strength are called to support the weak in body, mind and spirit. We are not called to judge others, for any reason—not for their politics, or what they eat or when or if they observe the Sabbath.

God still performs miracles every day. They may not be as dramatic as the ones in Exodus, but they are still miracles—a baby is born, a child learns to read or play Bach flawlessly, someone is healed of cancer or other disease, brothers learn to forgive, broken families are reconciled; men and women risk their lives caring for the sick and dying, putting out raging fires, and helping communities recover from natural disasters and acts of violence.

When we look closely, we will see God working in our midst. How do you see God working in your life?

God used many ordinary people 19 years ago on a day we will never forget. When terrorists tried to destroy as many lives as possible, ordinary people were led to heroic acts of kindness and self-sacrifice that saved many more.

During the evacuation of the World Trade Center on 911, Rescorla calmly reassured people, singing “God Bless America” over a bullhorn as they walked down the stairs. He called his wife. “Stop crying,” he told her. “I have to get these people out safely. If something should happen to me, I want you to know I’ve never been happier. You made my life.” He was last seen on the 10th floor of the South Tower, heading upward to look for any stragglers. His body was never found.

Survivor Ling Young told CNN that Crowther, the 24-year-old equities trader wearing the red bandana to shield his lungs and mouth, was her “guardian angel — no ifs, ands or buts — because without him,” she said, “we would be sitting there, waiting [until] the building came down.’ His body was later recovered alongside firefighters in a stairwell heading back up the tower with the ‘jaws of life’ rescue tool.

This is the God we serve. The God we trust. The only One who knows what’s in the road ahead and also what’s behind us. The One who revealed His love for the world when He gave His only Son.

The God who parts the sea.

Let us pray. Holy One, we are so grateful for the call on our lives—that we have the hope of all eternity with you because of your Son, who showed us the way back to you and gave his life for us. We pray for our community, for protection for the vulnerable, including the children and teachers in schools and our elderly in nursing homes, assisted living or homebound. We pray for healthcare workers and all the ordinary people who have become heroes during times of crisis, such as the terrorist attacks of 911. We lift up also the ordinary people who are everyday heroes, showing love, helping the weak, giving to people in need, feeding the hungry, working for peace and modeling faith, hope and love. Thank you for those who have lost their lives serving our country in war and acts of terrorism and those who serve our country today. Help us, Lord, when we are afraid or struggle to see your goodness in our midst. Help us to trust that you will fight our battles for us, if only we would be still and know you are the God who parts the sea. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Minnie, a toy poodle.

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