Influenced by the Enlightenment, Liberal Theology emerged in the late 18th century. Teeming with discovery and innovation, God was a hypothesis to be proved through the scientific method. The authority of scripture was rejected, the miracles of Jesus were interpreted metaphorically, and human achievement displaced Original Sin.
In the 21st century, liberalism has often settled for a morality informed by culture rather than Church, a political correctness filled with politeness instead of prophecy, and a theology of divine egalitarianism where God is unbiased, God is impartial, God is neutral.
But Christianity, historically, has rarely been the conviction of elite educated liberals. Instead it has primarily been the religion of peasants and paupers, farm hands and derelicts, commoners convinced that our story is bound up in the larger redemptive story of scripture, especially here in Exodus.
So why then is today’s reading the text for people who feel oppressed?
Exodus 14:21-31 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.” 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. Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.
Have to believe someone is fighting for our cause.
God will intervene for Godly causes, even with violence.
God’s ultimate purposes are always involve liberty.
On March 16, 1968, Hugh Thompson was flying reconnaissance over the village of My Lai. He received no enemy fire. He spotted an irrigation ditch full of assassinated bodies and a terrified group of Vietnamese civilians and children scrambling for shelter as American soldiers chased in murderous pursuit. Hugh landed his helicopter between 2nd Platoon C Company and the innocent villagers. Thompson commanded the door gunmen behind his cockpit to train their machine guns on their brothers in uniform until they stood down, until the massacre ended.
From the rice fields of Vietnam to the milk and honey of Canaan, every square inch of earth and sky is contested territory, a struggle between domination and democracy, between slavery and freedom, between empire and kingdom, between Pharaoh and God.
The Egyptian conglomerates and the industrial complexes, the municipalities and the sanctioned principalities have a vested interest in maintaining economies of bondage. Pyramids of power, after all, are much cheaper to construct with slave labor. So the Hebrews are never going to be voluntarily let go.
But this is the text for oppressed people because God’s justice isn’t the divine will equally distributed- a passive neutrality or an egalitarian fairness- but the tilted exercise of Yahweh’s strong arm to crush tyranny in its myriad of forms yesterday, today and tomorrow.
“There can be no Christian theology,” says James Cone, “that is not identified unreservedly with those who are humiliated and abused.”
God takes sides. God plays favorites. God is the holy partisan, not of liberalism, but of liberation.
“So Moses stretched out his hand… As the Egyptians fled… the Lord tossed [them] into the sea. But the Israelites walked on dry ground… the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.”