This sermon was given by Reverend Jason Carle, Pastor of Overland Park Presbyterian Church in Overland Park, Kansas on January 13, 2019. The following is a transcript of the scripture lessons and sermon.
Old Testament Lesson
Exodus 14: 5-29
When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? 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.” But Moses said to the people, “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.”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”
The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”T
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
New Testament Lesson
Luke 3: 21-22
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
It will come as no surprise to anyone sitting here that I think stories that we tell about ourselves are enormously important. So take a moment and I want you to think about your own life for a moment. If you meet someone, what is the story you tell them to let them know who you are?
This doesn’t have to be the story that says everything about you. But typically, when we get to know someone, we tell them a story about who we are.
Stories that we hear, these stories that we share, these stories are part of a narrative that shapes who we are. And they’re really important, whether it be your ability to convince your spouse to do something they should to do, whether it’s about how you got to go to Europe and the events that led to the change in your life–these are all things that affect who we are. They affect our values, and they affect how we perceive our world.
And today, as I reflect on the baptism of our Lord, we reflect upon our own baptism. I did not choose the parting of the red sea because it is a fantastic story (which it is). I chose the story because this story, the story of the people of Israel fleeing from Pharaoh, out into the wilderness – this is the story of Israel’s identity. This is the moment of the birth of the people of Israel in a way they had never been birthed before. Prior to the parting of the Red Sea, they were just a bunch of people, a family who had been wandering around the desert and traveling. But now they were a people. They had been slaves in Egypt, and this marks a transition of a people in slavery into a nation, a nation who from this point on were going to be sustained and nurtured, fed, and watered by God. That is who they would be.
How many of us when we tell these stories about ourselves like to put the best shine on these stories? We like stories that are complimentary of ourselves. In this story, the first story of the people of Israel, is them telling God “We told you so. We told you this wouldn’t work. Now we’re just gonna die out here.” But the ancient Israelites tell the truth of who they are. That is what baptism is for us as well. When we affirm our baptismal promises this day, we do not only tell the pretty stories about ourselves. We start by renouncing evil and its power in the world because we know all too well we have participated in evil at times in our lives. We then affirm that it is God who has claimed us. It is God who has said “Come to these waters, let me wash you clean.”
We come to the baptismal font in gratitude because the identity we are given is the identity that God gives to Christ: you are my Son, my Daughter. You are beloved. I have called you by name.
So today, as we have received the signs of remembrance, as you remember god’s claim upon your life, I hope that this really is a celebration. This is a celebration of who your deepest and truest identity is. We are not just the sum of our accomplishments, but even more importantly, we are the children and people of God. And no matter where we go in our lives, that promise is steadfast and sure. And that my friends is the good news. Amen.