CMC Worship in Place | September 13 | Exodus Series

Sermon | “Why do you cry out to Me?”

Sermon Text: Exodus 14:10-31

Preacher: Phil Yoder

A story about water
In 2014, the local government of Flint Michigan decided they wanted to save money by switching to a different water source. After switching the water source, the local government did not hold the water plant responsible for making sure that the water was clean, through placing the necessary chemicals in the water, to keep the lead pipes from poisoning the water. This led to high concentrations of lead in the drinking water of thousands of people.

Instead of having access to clean drinking water, Flint residence’s hair was falling out and children were getting sick. Lead poisoning at high amounts can lead to all sorts of health and human development issues. Bottled water, to this day, is still shipped to Flint for people to have clean water access. The government of Flint and of the United States had the ability to dictate who has access to clean water, and thus dictate who lives, and who dies.

Our bible story starts with the Israelites in a sticky situation, stuck between the  approaching Egptian armies and the foreboding red sea. They might be asking “Do I die by drowning, or do I die by the sword?” The decision over their own life has been ripped out of their control. Not too different from those in flint, who were stuck asking,“Do I drink poisonous water, or drink no water at all?”

In this peculiar situation, Moses is apparently very calm and collected. He tells the Israelites to “be Still.” That God will fight your battles. Often this is where traditional Mennonites like to end this story. Just be still – See, this God in the old testament isn’t violent. God is telling us not to act, but to just be still.

Sometimes in the face of empire, in the face of violence, what is needed of us is to just be still. To rest, to contemplate. To pray. To learn, To take time to reprioritize and reflect on where we have been, and what has been done.

Another Story about water
In the 2010s  the Dakota Access Pipeline project that was proposed to go through Standing Rock, a Lakota reservation. The pipeline was problematic for multiple reasons: Frist: Pipelines have a history of inevitably bursting.  In this case, the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) was going to pass underneath the Missouri River, potentially ruining a water source that supplies many major cities downstream. SECOND This pipeline was passing through reservation land in which the inhabitants did not want to give the oil company access to (including an ancestral burial ground).
Not only did Dakota access pipeline hire security forces to attack protesters with dogs and tear gas, but the government brought police forces and the national guard to respond to the peaceful demonstrations. The Dakota access pipeline and government together had the power to keep the project going, even though they did not have legal access to the land and there were obvious environmental risks for the water supply of millions of Americans. In the case of Standing Rock, both the government and corporations have the power to dictate who has access to clean water and who does not. Just this summer, a Federal Court put a pause on the Dakota access pipeline. A successful step for those who have been protesting. We will see how long that will last against the deep pockets of the oil industry.

Back to Exodus,
God responds Mose’s proposal to be still with a  rather funny question:  God asks,““Why do you cry out to Me?” They are stuck between the imperial military and a giant sea, and Mose was just done saying to not do anything about it, and God asks ““Why do you cry out to Me?” Is God aloof? Unaware of the situation they are in?

Or Perhaps God is saying -”What am I going to do about it?” Perhaps God is saying, “I am here, with you, but I am not going to solve this for you. You can’t just be still. You have to act.”

Moses says “be still and let God fight your battle,” and God asks, “Why are you crying out to me?” This is actually tension that is quite common in our faith. The Tension between
contemplation and practice,
between mysticism and resistance,
between thoughts and prayers, and action.
What are the Israelites to do?

Another Story about water
In the Six Nations of the Grand River reservation in Ontario Canada, Nestle extracts millions of liters of water every day from treaty land, while many in the reservation go without water. Ninety-one percent of the homes do not have access to a water treatment plant and those who do have tap water note that it is too polluted to drink. As a result, some families are forced to, once a week, travel to the nearest town to purchase bottled water. Water justice at Six Nations of the Grand River is both a failure of colonizers to keep treaties with Native Americans and, once again, a failure to treat indigenious peoples fairly. In the case of Six Nations of the Grand River, Nestle, a transnational company of imperial power, has the power to decide who has access to clean water.

Back in Exodus,
What are the Israeiltes to do? Moses acts. He is told to raise his hands. Notice how it’s not simply God who is saving the day. Humans are acting, are creating a change in the situation, are finding a creative alternative -with God. And this creative alternative is outrageous. The Red sea begins to split and a clear path forward is provided, through the sea.

The Israelites make their way forward, stepping into the unknown. I imagine the old ten commandments movie – poorly animated walls of violent water on either side of them. They are in the hands of God, rejecting comforts of empire and into the deep sea. What will they be like when they reach the other side, finally free of their oppressor, free of dependence on empire. Free of the violence of empire?

St. Augustine wrote about how the crossing of the red sea was a type of baptism. The Israelites go into the sea as one people and exit as new people. Just like how our tradition of baptism is one where we are dipped into the water as a person oriented in one direction, and come out of the water, reoriented toward Christ, towards love, towards justice. Some have seen baptisms as a type of rehearsal of death and resurrection. The act of submerging or drowning, leaving behind the old person, so that a new one is born when they come out of the water, resurrected.

Perhaps the baptism of the Israelites is one of going into the water aligned with the empire, and coming up, out into the tension of action and contemplation. Baptized into the tension “being still” and “rising up” like moses’ hands.

In previous weeks, Joel has talked about this exodus journey as an orientation, disorientation, and a reorientation. Perhaps this baptism is the start of the reorientation for the Israelites. The final step of leaving empire behind.

Another  story about water
Water justice issues can also take place on a small scale. A man in Madison county, not too far from Pete and Metz farm, recently decided to divert “Crooked Run,” a stream which runs through this man’s land, into a pond he dug. He imagined it as a place where he could stock trout and where birds and waterfowl could find refuge. His next door neighbor, who relies on Crooked Run to water her horses, began noticing that the creek bed no longer had water coming through it. Another neighbor, a mile downstream, had his house surrounded by water after a major rainfall.  In their county, there is little the law can do to stop such actions like diverting streams into ponds. Even a private citizen who owns land can control a water source upstream.  They hold the power over who gets water, if they choose to divert water into a pond.

Our Anabaptist Ancestors baptism was an act that risked violence towards them. Starting in the 16th century, the anabaptists throughout Europe decided that the infant baptism that they experienced was not a baptism of their choice. At that time the church and state were tied so closely together, that to reject one’s infant baptism was to reject the state and thus, receive a death sentence. So the Anabapist were re-baptised. They went under the water as a part of the reformed or catholic church, and came up out of the water aligned with their understanding of God. They rejected empire, like the Israelites, and instead tried to follow God.

One more story about water
There are other forces that affect people’s relationship with water. Currently in Sudan, there is record flooding of the Nile River that has killed a hundred people and displaced half a million. While in this instance, empire is disguised behind climate change, its important not to forget the its is the giant corporations and the overconsuming spirit of many of us, that has contributed to this water injustice, through climate change.

Seldom is water injustice working its evil alone. In Flint, poverty and racism are a part of water justice. In Six Nations of the Grand River reservation and Standing Rock, idengious/Governement treaties are a part of water injustice. In the Nile, recorded flooding can be connected to climate change which intensifies periodic flooding.

The Israelites survived their baptism through the red sea, with the help of God and the help of Moses. What can we learn from this? Baptism is something that happens in a specific place. Regardless if we are using tap water or the local stream, we are being baptized into our local watersheds, with whatever water, if any, is there. For the Israelites, their baptism happened at the red Sea, a body of water that was a symbol of certain death.

What does it look like to be baptized into the violence of our own water injustices. To wake up to the imperial violence that is a disregard for the water of the people. What does it look like if we are baptized in poison, lead filled or oil filled water? Or in an empty stream bed where all the water has dried up from over consumption, hoarding, or by bottled water companies. Would we simply be distracted by the dirty water? Or would the baptism awaken us to the issues at hand? Can baptisms be combination of the rejection of empire, like our Anabaptist ancestors and the Israelites, and can our baptisms open our eyes to the water injustice that is right in front of us in the waters we are using. Baptism out of empire and into poisonous water, is a rejection of submitting to those who wield the power of who gets water, and who dies. It is followed by a ressurrection -towards action, towards resistance, but also mysticism, contemplation and prayer. To act and/or be still.

Throughout this summer, amidst protests, I felt myself constantly asking, am I doing enough? Should I be doing more? Or should I slow down and be still?I began thinking about all the work that people are doing to act for justice today. Some of you are burnt out. Some of us know we really need to cultivate “stillness.”  For those who need to hear Moses’ call to just be still: be still.

Those who, when praying, hear God saying “Why are you crying out to me?” perhaps need to quit praying and start “rising up” like Moses hands. And perhaps God will act with us, moving through water, rejecting empire, once again.