Powers That Be
I’m going to read you some names from the Bible.
Tell me if they sound familiar:
Pontus Pilate, King Nebuchadnezzar; King Herod; King Ahab, Queen Jezebel, Pharaoh.
All familiar, right?
What do they have in common?
Yeah, they were bad people, the whole lot of them.
But they all had names.
Who is the one without a name?
Pharaoh. Did you catch that?
Everyone else has a formal name.
But not Pharaoh.
It’s just Egyptian for Ruler or King…
Why doesn’t Pharaoh get a name?
Certainly, the Hebrews being saved by God in this monumental story — celebrated for thousands and thousands of years and even today — knew who Pharaoh was, right?
And Moses himself was found in the Nile River by Pharaoh’s own daughter and raised in Pharaoh’s house.
We can’t get the name of the Pharaoh?
There’s some speculation that it was Thutmose II, who when he died, so died his royal line, because he had no son…
But nothing’s certain about that.
And so the second question is why does this matter?
I ask that question because it leaves us wondering after such a detailed, monumental and celebrated story of our very salvation story, such a detail is omitted.
Isn’t that peculiar?
Here we have the story that we read in Exodus a few moments ago.
You remember it — and before the whole dividing of the Red Sea, God approaches Moses, tells him to go to Pharaoh and demand that the Hebrews are set free.
Ten times, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, and ten times, God — Yahweh (I Am Who I Am or I Am Who I Will Be) — God acts, and Pharaoh is left defeated by swarms, rivers of blood, the death of his own son and all the firstborn of Egypt.
And now, an eleventh time, Pharaoh, after telling Moses to get out, decides once more to pursue with all of his great army and just flat-out annihilate the Hebrews whom God is setting free.
He’s just mad now and wants blood.
The Battle is between who?
So my next question is this:
Who is the battle between?
Is it Moses vs. Pharaoh?
Is it God — YAHWEH — vs. Pharaoh?
Let’s reframe that, because what this story is really about is a who is the greatest power.
So again, is it God’s power over Pharaoh?
If we think about that, it’s not that as much as it is something else.
Because God could have just rained down fire and poof! No more Pharaoh.
God could have done that during the first plague and spared everyone the frogs and lice and blood and death of all firstborn creatures, as well as having drowned the entire Egyptian army…
No, what God was using power over was not a person or even an army, but a concept.
Corruption. Persecution. Greed. Cruelty. Oppression. Degradation. Inhumanity. Destruction. Subjugation.
In other words, God is exercising power over chaos.
It’s not so much about Pharaoh, but what Pharaoh represents.
And he doesn’t get a name.
It’s just chaos.
It’s against God.
And the vehicle or means to bring God’s order over chaos?
Just like in Genesis, it’s seen in the sea.
God forms order out of the chaos of the sea.
It’s God’s power over the sea.
God tells Moses in our reading today to raise his hands, and the sea parts.
The Hebrews pass among it in order, following the great cloud in which God is leading them from.
And once high and dry on the other side, and with the unnamed Pharaoh and his army in the middle of it, God allows the chaos of the situation to close back in.
Moses drops his hands.
And God exercises power over chaos.
I was at a conference earlier this week, and the topic was racism and reconciliation.
We read an account — which we talked about just a few weeks ago here — in which Jesus heals a Gentile woman’s daughter who was consumed by a demon.
Jesus agrees to heal the Syrophoenician child after her mother convinces Jesus that even the dogs — the Gentiles — eat the same food that falls from the table of the children’ — the Jews.
We learned from that lesson that love knows no race.
Love doesn’t hold a grudge.
And Love transcends borders.
Jesus brings order to chaos because of love.
God brings order to chaos because of love.
God is against chaos because chaos is oppression and oppression is chaos.
Lot of thinking this morning, isn’t there?
Didn’t plan on that, did you?
Kinda wished you had brought that tumbler of coffee now, don’t you?
The stories are about God’s salvation being given for all.
God created all. Even Pharaoh.
Unfortunately, Pharaoh didn’t see it that way.
Neither did those others we named earlier:
Nebuchadnezzar; Herod; Ahab, Jezebel, Pilate…
Each of them were trying to employ chaos.
And chaos is counter to God.
In our reading today, Pharaoh is unnamed because he represents chaos.
He is a chaotic sea that God will tame.
He is a chaotic sea that God will save God’s children from.
We might say “Oh, why did so many people have to die? Why didn’t God save them from the chaos?”
We can just look to the text for that.
The Egyptian army was heavily armed.
It wasn’t a fair fight.
The Hebrews had some sort of army, but certainly, there were no chariots.
They would have been destroyed without God’s intervention.
Which leads us to our last question:
What was God’s intervention?
In other words, how did God bring order out of chaos?
A simple person named Moses…
In other words, God uses God’s own children to drive out chaos in the world and bring peace and order.
We see it time and time again.
God uses us.
But God tells Moses to stand up there on the bank and raise his hands so that God can drive chaos to its knees.
That’s God’s power.
Through the prophets.
Through God’s son Jesus Christ.
And through us.
Sure, we Methodists love to talk about our agency — that we aren’t puppets on some string that God moves around.
But that we make choices, and our hope is that the choices we make align with God’s will.
We do that through prayer, and we do that through Scripture.
We’re doing that here right now.
So that when Moses’s back is up against the Red Sea shore, and coming in hot is Pharaoh and his army of chariots, Moses has been obedient to God, and God intervenes.
Moses raises his hands, and Moses lowers his hands.
And in between those hands is all of God’s work.
So, we have to put a big equals sign on all of this, don’t we?
And here it is:
Pharaoh was unnamed because it didn’t matter who he was.
What he represented mattered.
He represented chaos — oppression and subjugation — and God’s order intervened and subdued chaos yet again.
God does this through humans — through each of us.
Today, God is still speaking to us out of a pillar of smoke.
And God is still leading us this way today.
We just have to ask ourselves:
Are we listening when God tells us to go and set God’s people free?
Are we following what God asks us — demands us, even — to do?
Or do we not hear it at all?
We can look out into our neighborhoods and see the problems.
We can see poverty, inequality, racism and sexism.
We can see hate.
We know what that looks like.
But are we to simply remedy these wounded, or are we to remedy what is wounding them?
Another words, what are the systems in place — the systems we allow, even — that foster the oppression and subjugation of people?
If we agree from our Scripture lesson that God opposes chaos and uses God’s people as agents to bring peace, then how are we listening to God and how are we acting on God’s will?
Part of the life of the Christian disciple is to recognize what God wants and then work to make God’s will a reality here on earth.
That doesn’t mean just examining the people who are the product of chaos, it means looking at the power systems — the powers that be — who manufacture the product.
Who keep the world in chaos.
Who oppose God’s will.
And maybe they even claim themselves as Christians.
It’s up to us to understand God’s character and God’s will so that we can identify those corrupt systems and work to diffuse them.
We have to stand on the shores of our Red Seas and lift our arms.
Then lower our arms.
It’s hard to believe, but just this past week, North Korea fired a missile over Japan and said “the country of Japan isn’t needed anymore.”
Maybe an empty threat, saber-rattling, crazy talk…
But that? That’s chaos.
When white supremacists march in the streets spewing hate and fear to oppress and subjugate, then we say that both sides were to blame, that’s chaos.
When we say the systems that are in place are correct to elevate one group — such as men or white people — and subjugate another group — such as women or people of color — that’s chaos.
See, it’s not just the victims; it’s the power structures in place that foster chaos.
There again, it’s not just the Hebrews with their backs to the Red Sea, it’s the Pharaoh who put them in that place.
God’s call to our lives is to bring peace.
We’re given a wonderful gift to know such peace in our own lives, but, like Peter Parker’s uncle in the comic Spider-Man says, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Unfortunately, that power can be abused, and Pharaoh, Kim Jong Il, the KKK and social and civil practices that tacitly condone racism and sexism, among other things, in our very own country are among them.
God shows us that we have the hands of Moses, too.
We just need to listen to God’s will, and raise those hands when God calls us to.
And sometimes, we need to lower them when God tells us too.
Jesus Christ came so that we would have joy.
Jesus Christ came so that we would have joy.
All of us. Not just some.
Joy is peace. Joy is love.
Joy is together with God, our creator.
God the Father.
God the Mother.
God, the parent what wants all of God’s children back home.
God who wants the kingdom come to also be the kingdom now.
“On earth as it is in heaven.” That’s what that means.
It’s God’s will that “will be done.”
On earth as it is in heaven….
Moses doubted. He questioned.
And he was up against what looked like certain death.
His enemy wasn’t Pharaoh;
his enemy was chaos.
Evil. The devil.
God won’t have it.
But we cannot simply close our eyes and expect God to reign down fire.
No, we have to do some lifting, too.
We live in some scary ties again, my friends.
We need to be able to discern God’s will, to listen. And to respond.