BETWEEN MIGDOL AND THE SEA
Exodus 14: 19-31
A sermon by Thomas R. McKibbens
September 15, 2019
When I hear this text from the book of Exodus and imagine the children of Israel facing the sea with the Egyptian army in hot pursuit, I can’t help but think of those people standing on the dock at Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas. Behind them is the destruction and chaos of Hurricane Dorian; before them is the sea. They are caught in between the destruction behind them and the sea before them.
We think of them as we hear this story about not being able to see a way out. The writer of this account is very careful to say that they were encamped between Migdol and the sea. Of course, no one expects us to know where a place called Migdol is, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that they were caught between the sea on one side and Migdol on the other, and if the enemy closed in on them, there was no place to go! They were boxed in. This is the equivalent to being between a rock and a hard place, except it was between the water and the enemy, and the enemy was charging in closer and closer. It was death by the Egyptians or death by the sea. Those appeared to be the alternatives!
So it’s no wonder that the people lost heart: 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 to die in the wilderness. Slavery, in other words, began to look pretty good compared to drowning!
They couldn’t see a way out. There are some of you here in this sanctuary who may be in the same place–between your own Migdol and the sea! You may be in that place where you cannot see a way out. You are feeling the squeeze, not knowing which way to turn. Most of us have been there. This ancient story is for people who can’t see a way out.
What is it that helped them out of their situation? In that time of panic, that time of griping to their leader, that time of second thoughts, there was only one thing they could see that was a glimmer of hope. They could see a pillar of cloud. They believed that cloud was the presence of God, leading them and guarding them. But even they knew that a cloud could not stop a spear. Water vapor could not slow down a horse and chariot. They didn’t know how they were going to get out of that fix, but they could look up and know that God was with them.
Sometimes that’s all you can be sure of. “I don’t know how God is going to help me get out of this fix, but I know God is with me.” How many times have I heard that? Between Migdol and the sea is an anxious place, and most of us recognize the terrain because we have been there. Today, even if we are not there, we are surrounded by people who are. They stare at us across the pews, across the grocery store aisle, across the back yard, across the office, across the classroom, and sometimes from the mirror. There is a population explosion between Migdol and the sea, as the rise in the number of suicides shows!
Now let’s go a little deeper into this ancient but contemporary story. First, there is the tradition that God commanded Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea, and when Moses obeyed, the waters parted, giving the children of Israel a way to escape. Then when Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and the water rushed back onto the Egyptian army, leaving Israel safe on dry land, Miriam sang at the top of her lungs, and Moses was vindicated as their indisputable leader. God wins; chaos loses!
Friends, I don’t know where all of you are today, but I can guess some of you can situate yourselves between Migdol and the sea. There seems to be no way out. You are boxed in. All the choices range from bad to worse. I certainly cannot divine a way out of your particular situation. But I can do what may seem naieve to some: I can point to a cloud. I can remind you of an unseen friend. I can also remind you of friends you can see, a community of people who care and pray and live out their lives as a part of this church. I can point to a God who specializes in winning out over chaos!
And I can point to one more thing. That universal symbol of Christian faith, the cross, symbolizes One who was caught between his own Migdol and the sea. Nothing but death lay before him. The reason the cross is so comforting a symbol to so many people is that we all eventually come to that place between Migdol and the sea, and we see no way out.
I once had a member of the church I served who married into a well-to-do family who lived in a European country. It was a family that owned banks and hotels and great expanses of property. They had everything money could buy. But their money could not buy health, and when the father in that family came down with cancer, he flew in his private jet to be treated in Boston. That was where I came into the picture. My church member asked me to visit her father-in-law in the hospital. She said that he had spent his life in another religion, but he asked if a Christian minister would visit him.
On one of those visits, this wealthy man asked me to bring him something that surprised me. He asked me to bring him a small cross he could hold in his hand. I left that day amazed that this man, who never even pretended to be a Christian or to be interested in the Christian faith, wanted a cross. I went to a dime store and bought a little cross for a quarter. When I gave it to him, you would think I was giving him gold! He clung to that little 25 cent dime store cross as a sign of hope.
The resurrection of Jesus is the story of God parting the waters once more! It is another way of saying that not even death can ever separate us from the love of God seen in Christ Jesus our Lord. Even in the face of death, there is a way out!
Whenever we find ourselves in such a tight corner, our own space between Migdol and the sea, our ultimate help comes not from high-tech weaponry or clever leaders or satellite intelligence or advanced degrees or good investments. Our help comes from God’s people reaching out to help neighbors in need. And ultimately, as the psalmist said, Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.