Red Sea Moments
August 20, 2006 | Providence Presbyterian Church | Exodus 14:10-22
Pray with me, please.
Lord, nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to Thy cross, I cling. Amen.
Without any doubt, one of the best known, most loved stories in all of the Bible is the great Old Testament story of Moses leading the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt on through the waters of the Red Sea and then toward the freedom of the Promised Land. Great story. You remember, don’t you, how the Egyptian pharaoh after enduring all of those terrible plagues finally decided to let God’s people go. You remember how and not long after the Israelites departed, Pharaoh changed his mind and ordered his army assembled and to head off in pursuit of the people of Israel. You remember how when the Israelites arrived at the banks of the Red Sea, they suddenly wondered how in the world they were going to get through all of that long, wide body of water. What were they going to do? And you remember how when they then turned and looked back toward Egypt, to their horror, there was the army of the pharaoh in hot pursuit. Now I want to tell you that I call that a Red Sea moment in life. The people of Israel were stuck. They couldn’t go forward. The sea was there. They couldn’t go backward. The army of pharaoh was there. They couldn’t even stay right where they were. They were stymied by their circumstances. They were paralyzed by a sense of hopelessness. That is a Red Sea moment in life.
Now I have long since become convinced that the story of ancient Israel is our story as well. That is the story of the people of God then, it is the story of the people of God now. And therefore, let’s be honest enough to acknowledge that yes, there are times in life when we as the people of God, when we as individual children of God, when we encounter those Red Sea moments in life, when we reach a point in life where we can’t go forward, we can’t go backward, we can’t go around the problem, and we can’t even stand back right where we are. What do we do then in those Red Sea moments? Well, let’s first of all acknowledge that the Red Sea moments in life actually fall under different names for different people. For example, for some, a Red Sea moment is called unemployment; for some, serious illness; for some, a child in trouble; for some, abuse in your own life or in the life of someone you love; for some, a career dead end; for some, a marriage on the rocks. It doesn’t matter the name. The reality is the same, Red Sea moment. You can’t go forward. You can’t go backward. You can’t stay where you are. What do you do then? Well, as I said since their story is our story, it might do us well to look at some of the things that people of Israel needed to do there on the banks of the Red Sea. And by so doing, we may learn some lessons to help us deal with our own Red Sea moments in life. Now I want to lay this out for you in a way that is very easy to remember. Here we go.
The first thing the Israelites needed to do at the Red Sea was to futurize.
Let me say that again. What they needed to do was to futurize. That is to say they needed to look toward the future. God was saying to them, “Don’t look at your past. You’re no longer slaves. Don’t look at Pharaoh’s army. I’ll take care of that.” “So you got the Red Sea in front of you. So what? Put one foot in front of the other or look toward the future. And if you move forward, then you will be astounded at how I will take care of you.” That’s the Word of our God. When we encounter those hopeless situations in life, God says, “Don’t focus on the failure in the past. Don’t even focus on the dilemma of the present. Focus instead on the promise of the future.” That’s what it means to futurize, to turn your eyes toward what’s ahead, to trust God and to move forward. Foot after foot, step after step, length after length, moving forward trusting that God will somehow see us through. That’s the first thing we do when we encounter some situation in life that seems absolutely hopeless. Futurize.
Branch Rickey was, for many years, one of the great figures in Major League Baseball. He was the long-time president and general manager of the old Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team. Among my favorite stories of Branch Rickey—and remember please, Branch Rickey was a deeply devoted Christian. But one of my favorite stories was actually told to me by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale on the occasion some years back when Dr. Peale was speaking in the church, which I served at the time. Dr. Peale proceeded to tell me how Branch Rickey invited him one day to come sit with him in his box seat at old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to watch the Dodgers play. It was a terrific ball game. Very exciting. In the eighth inning, one of the Dodger players came up to the plate. He swung at the first pitch, hit it deep into the hole at third base. He started running toward first base. The ball was deep enough in the hole at third base that he ought to have made to first base. He didn’t make it. He was thrown out. Branch Rickey was livid.
He cried out, “Did you see that? He obviously didn’t even want to get to first base. If he wanted to get there, he would have gotten there.” And then he wheeled around, and he said, “Preacher, there’s a sermon illustration for you.” Dr. Peale was completely befuddled. He said, “What sermon illustration?” And Branch Rickey said, “Didn’t you see it?” “He hit the ball, and he started toward first base. And as he was running toward first base, he had a big plug of chewing tobacco in his cheek, and he turned his head to expectorate, and that slowed him down enough so that he got thrown out in first base.” Well, at that point, Norman Vincent Peale collapsed in laughter, and Branch Rickey began to laugh too. And then Branch Rickey said, “Okay, preacher. Here’s your sermon and here’s your text. This one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind. I get to first base and then spit. I get to first base and then spit.”
Oh, there are so many people in life who never make it to first base. They never get to experience the joys and the pleasures of life in God because they’re so busy spitting out all the bitternesses and all the defeats and all the discouragements of their yesterdays. When we encounter those Red Sea moments in life, where everything seems hopeless, we can’t go forward, we can’t go backward, we can’t stay where we are, when we encounter those moments, we need to futurize. We need to turn toward tomorrow. We need to put one foot in front of the other and move forward trusting that somehow God will see us through. Futurize. That’s the first thing the Israelites needed to do.
The second thing the Israelites needed to do was to visualize.
I told you I was going to make this easy for you. Futurize. Visualize. Oh, what I mean by that is that, well, no sooner had the people of Israel managed to escape from slavery in Egypt, and suddenly, they encounter the Red Sea. It’s hopeless. The sea in front of them, the army behind them, hopeless. And what do they do? They start to whine and complain and feel sorry for themselves and wallow all around in self-pity. They said to Moses, “Moses, what were you thinking bringing us out here in this God-forsaken wilderness to die? I tell you we would’ve been better off just staying back even in all the horrors of slavery in Egypt.” It was at that point that God recognized that those people needed to catch a vision of what God had in mind for them. They needed to visualize the Promised Land. And so God said to them, “I’m going to give you a picture of a land that is literally flowing with milk and honey. And I want you to see in your mind’s eye what life would be like living in a land like that. I want you to visualize all the glory that is still ahead for you.” That was the second thing those Israelites needed to do. They needed to visualize.
And I keep saying it, because their story is our story, well, when we encounter those Red Sea moments in life, when everything seems hopeless, we need to visualize. We need to see in our mind’s eye all the things that God still can do in us and with us and through us. Visualize. That’s it. Futurize. Visualize.
Let me make the point like this. I want to introduce you to a most remarkable woman. Her name is Genevieve Kosinski Jacobs. She’s well up into her 70s. Very late in her life. She had a call to the ministry of all things. An elderly woman. She went to seminary. She was ordained. She doesn’t serve a local church, but she is the chaplain and the chief probation officer for youthful offenders in the Santa Ana jail in Orange County, California. Here’s this woman in her 70s, mind you. And I got to tell you she has some unorthodox methods for dealing with the young, law-breaking people who are brought before her to stand under her authority. I’d give you an example. In most instances, when some young person who’s been convicted in court is being recommended for probation and is sent to Genevieve Kosinski Jacobs, she usually sits down to interview the young person and the young person’s mother. Sad to say, if there happens to be a father in the family, only rarely does the father show up for these kinds of occasions. And so usually it’s just the mother. And Genevieve Kosinski Jacobs begins her interview by turning to the mother and saying, “What is your annual income?” And usually the answer is $15,000, 18, 20 thousand dollars a year. And Genevieve Kosinski Jacobs then says, “I want you to be aware of the fact that the funeral costs for this son of yours are going to be $6,000.” Well, the young man is startled. He says, “What do you mean funeral costs for me?” And she wheels around on this young fellow and says to him, “Listen to me. You keep living the way you are living, that’s what’s going to happen to you. And I’m just trying to make your mom aware of what is going to cost her to have your funeral.” And then she turns back around to the mother and says, “Now, Ma’am, I want to tell you. I know an outfit that I can put you in contact with, and they can get you a cremation for 800 bucks, tops.” Well, by this time, the young guy is exploding in anger. He says, “Are you crazy? I’m not going to die. I’m tough. I can handle myself. Besides that, I’m a member of the gang called The Bloods.” With that, huh, Genevieve Kosinski Jacobs bursts into action. She stands up, pulls open the door of her desk, reaches in, pulls out a bag, drops it on top of the desk. She opens up the bag as a pile of ashes.The young man says, “What’s that?” And she says, “That’s Roger Brown. Roger Brown sat right where you’re sitting, said the same thing to me you just said. I’m just holding onto his ashes till his momma can raise the 800 bucks to pay for the cremation. That’s what’s going to happen to you. You say you are tough. A bullet doesn’t care how tough you think you are. That’s what happened to Roger Brown. That’s what’s going to happen to you. And I’m going to keep the bag in my desk.” Needless to say, by this time, she’s got this young person’s attention. Mind you, she’s in her 70s. She reaches out, and she takes hold of that young life. And she then begins a long, slow, tedious process of helping that young person to begin to visualize all that he or she might become in life. Sometimes she actually goes so far as to move in with these young people, live with them, helping them to move forward toward the life they never dreamed they could have.
Is it any wonder that out there in Santa Ana, California, there are a lot of tough kids whom society has written off as hopeless? But because of Genevieve Kosinski Jacobs, those young people can see the power of God parting the waters of the sea, and they are moving forward into a life that God wants them to know.
I keep saying it, don’t I? Because their story is our story. What the Israelites needed to do at the Red Sea is what we need to do in our lives when we encounter those hopeless times. We need to visualize. We need to see in our mind’s eye all that God can still do in us and with us and through us. Futurize. Visualize.
The third thing the Israelites needed to do, personalize.
Now you’ve got that in your mind, right? Futurize. Visualize. Personalize. You see it in the story. Moses says to them, “The Lord is going to fight for you.” You see, Moses was making God personal. He was reminding the people of Israel that if they move forward trusting God, then God would be with them personally every step of the way, guiding them, directing them, protecting them, providing for them. And like I said, their story is our story. And so when we encounter those Red Sea moments in life, we need to personalize. We need to remember that the God who has created us individually loves us personally. Futurize. Visualize. Personalize. By the way, you know the word hopeless is not in God’s vocabulary? There is no evil that exists so great that God cannot bring some good from it. None.
Do you know the name Chesty Puller? My guess is that some of you will remember that Chesty Puller was a great Marine general in the Korean War. Chesty Puller didn’t have the word hopeless in his vocabulary either. In fact, there is a wonderful time when General Puller delivered a broadcast message to his troops when the fighting was absolutely at the peak. General Puller said, “The enemy’s on the right flank. The enemy’s on the left flank. The enemy is before us. The enemy is behind us. This time he won’t get away.” The word hopeless was not in his vocabulary. The word hopeless is not in God’s vocabulary either. I don’t want to sound like a broken record because their story is our story. When we find ourselves in those Red Sea moments in life, those times of hopelessness, we need to personalize. We need to remember that God loves us personally, and that the same God who parted the waters of the sea for the people of Israel is working in your life and in mine. Personalize.
Several years back, one of our distinguished professors of theology traveled to the nation of Korea to deliver a series of academic lectures. While he was there, he asked if it might be possible for him on the upcoming Sunday to go out and preach in one of the little village church is out in the countryside in Korea. The arrangements were made for him by one our Presbyterian missionaries, a man named Graham Lee. Graham Lee offered to be the translator for this distinguished professor as he preached his sermon. And so the two of them drove out to this little church on that Sunday and discovered that the people from that area had jammed into that little church to the walls. They were there so eager to hear this famous professor preach.
The professor stepped up into the pulpit. Graham Lee stepped up right beside the pulpit ready to translate the professor’s words into the Korean language. The professor began his sermon like this. “All human thought can be divided consistently into two distinct categories: the concrete and the abstract.” In that moment, Graham Lee looked out at the people jammed into that church: the faces of toothless old grandmothers, the faces of hardworking women lined by weariness, the faces of poorly dressed children, the faces of strong, simple, sturdy, sweat-stained farmers. And Graham Lee proceeded to translate the professor’s words like this: “I have come all the way from America to tell you that you can trust Jesus Christ, your Savior.” And I want to tell you, from that moment on, that sermon was in the hands of the angels.
I come to this pulpit today to say to you as simply and as plainly as I know how. You can know Jesus Christ. You can know Jesus Christ is with you now and will be with you for all of your life. You can trust Jesus Christ, your Savior. Whenever you encounter some Red Sea moment in your life, you can know that Jesus Christ, personally, will lead you to all of the splendor He has waiting for you ahead. That’s why my greatest, my highest hope for you is that you would come to know, personally, my Jesus, your Jesus, our Jesus.
Pray with me, please. God on high, hear my prayer. When we encounter those situations in life where we are stymied by the circumstances and everything seems hopeless, enable us to see Jesus. He is enough. He is everything. He is all we ever need. Amen. And amen.