Broad Brook Congregational Church
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 24, 2014
I’d wager that when our Exodus text was read the image that popped into your heads was that of a picture of the baby Moses lying in a basket placed among the reeds and near the bank of the river Nile with his sister near by.
That is the second picture I remember coloring in Sunday school, the first being the one of Joseph in his coat of many colors (which we now know was an incorrect translation).
As a child, I was both happy and sad when I heard the story of the baby Moses. Happy that he was rescued but sad that his mother had to give him up and I guess confused as to why Pharaoh thought he had to kill all the Israelites’ baby boys. (It reminds me how careful we must be as we teach our young children scriptures like this one.)
Now before we dig into our passage, we need a brief background lesson on the book of Exodus.
There is no surprise that the name of the book comes from the focus of the first fifteen chapters: the liberation from Egypt. However that is not the entire purpose of the narrative which continues to tell: the various laws which distinguish the Israelites, and the construction of the tabernacle which is written in considerable detail and assures that God will reside among the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
God’s purpose for liberation of the people is expressed in multiple but similar ways: 1) in order to establish a relationship, 2) to make them unique, 3) a priestly kingdom and a holy nation, and 4) to dwell among them.
Chapter one begins the story with the words: “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph” (v.8). If this were being made into a movie there would be dramatically dark ominous music playing. You know, the kind of music that always announces a downward turn of events.
You might be thinking why? What is the big deal that a new king was on the throne and he did not know Joseph? Well it is a big deal for the people because there was no longer anyone in power that understood the relationship between the previous Pharaoh and Joseph and his people.
A relationship that flourished on trust and that welcomed diversity with in the land. Suddenly a new power was established in which state commitments were abandoned; the privileges enjoyed by Jacobs family are instantly withdrawn.
It was also, as they were to find out, a power that was insecure.
As God had promised, Israelites were becoming as numerous as the stars and the new king saw this as a security risk.
Should an enemy try to invade Egypt, the prospect of the Israelites joining the enemy was to great to ignore. Initially the king tried forced labor and when that failed he moved to genocide.
The latest policy whereby: “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile,
but you shall let every girl live”(v.22), was irrational.
Destructive power had deep roots in imperial ideology.
Those who generated policy and those who carried out those decrees did not view them as brutal, for it was all for the good of the state.
(The term Hebrews referred to any group of marginal people who owned no land, had no social standing, and who consistently interrupted the structured community.
The Israelites were Hebrews—low class people—who were despised, feared, and excluded.)
Chapter two begins with the story of Moses. While many refer to it as the birth of Moses, the birth takes up only half a verse. What is more prominent is the rescue of Moses. The courageous and defiant midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, from chapter one and the three unnamed women in chapter two made possible Israel’s future liberation.
Pharaoh’s daughter, “the woman,” and the “sister” spared the baby thus showing that life continued amidst the death mandate given by Pharaoh.
The trajectory of the Israelites was transformed By God working behind the scenes.
In this narrative we see similarities to the Joseph narrative where God is present but only below the surface of the language. God is responsible for the outcome of the story despite never having made an appearance.
It is the women who have displaced God’s providence and are the ones who have permitted the promise of Israel’s future release from captivity to flourish.
God is working through these women, working around and under the oppressive nature of a power having become terribly depraved. The courageous women whose care, compassion, and faithfulness is so evident are actually extending the tender care, compassion, and faithfulness of God.
Psalm 124, confirms that it is God who protects and saves us, “otherwise”, it says, “the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us” (v.4).
Such a statement is certainly Good News. God is with us in the midst of the floods of our lives; God working in and through the caring hands of others as they move us to a place of safety and calm.
We tend to push that good news to the back of our minds or maybe even forget it when disasters like tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, massacres of school children and innocent shoppers and any other horrific tragedy strikes.
It provokes us to further reflect on where is God and where are we, when life overwhelms us.
Debra Joseph, member of Beecher Memorial United Church of Christ in New Orleans and a survivor of Hurricane Katrina when asked about God said: “God has always been in control of my life,” and feels blessed for “the people God sent” into her life. She has lost a great deal,
but “what God has in store at the end of my journey will be better than I had before. I hold on to that thought so the great loss will not take over my life. This keeps me grounded, so I can give it all to God, stand firm, be patient, and let God do what God wants to do with and through me”(Sermon Seeds, 8/24/2014)
In all ages, there are always some who struggle to survive, and for others there is a struggle to refuse to live comfortably while others are near to drowning in the storms of life. As we read and ponder this narrative of death, life, and rescue it calls us to open our hearts, minds, and eyes to the hidden providence of God—to be transformed.
God intervened through the bold actions of the midwives who refused to participate in genocide, through the actions of a despairing mother and loving sister, through a compassionate Egyptian princess who ignored class boundaries and her father’s decree of death.
God opened their hearts and the hopes of a future new nation were raised.
But what does God call us to do?
As we consider questioning policies and practices that keep “the least of these” oppressed and suffering will we worry about maintaining our own balance in a turbulent world.
We may feel overwhelmed by the suffering in the world, but what does God want from us?
We are called to “let God do what God wants to do with and through” us. To let God transform us.
We are challenged to do more than listen to stories of struggles/survivors. We need to be open to the ways in which God is working. And to borrow from Micah 6:8:
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
This does not have to be just individual action. We are a people of faith joined in community. What can we do as a church to relieve suffering? We are already doing some things through are Missions committee when we send financial support to programs that reach many of those who suffer.
But there are things we could do close to home also—to be transformed and transform the lives of others by acting as conduits for God’s love, faithfulness, and compassion.
To help the environment we could get rid of the plastic coffee cups and use mugs during coffee hour. There are adults who cannot read. The UCC is offering a study guide on how to tutor and implementing a program to reduce adult illiteracy. There is a need to help at the soup kitchen held at the UMC. It would be fun and serve a need if we get a few of us together to help serve dinner once or twice a year. We could investigate the business practices of major retail stores where we shop. Support the ones who treat their employees fairly and abandon those who do not. And the list goes on.
Perhaps we could choose one that we feel passionate about and do it for the coming year.
Reevaluate our experience at the end and either continue or choose a new project.
As a people of faith we affirm God’s love and watchfulness over every one of us.
It is the kind of faith we hear in Psalm 124. Walter Brueggemann writes:
“The power of sustaining heaven and earth is mobilized on behalf of us in our particular crisis.”
We cannot turn on the evening news without being reminded of how fragile life is in this world where hate tries to overpower love.
Israel lived under constant threat, also, but their faith sustained them.
Brueggemann says this: “Faith is the capacity to read, discern, and live that life under threat, always in solidarity with God.
The psalm is the voice of trust, confident about a counterlife with God, beyond threat, utterly liberated and confident” (Texts for Preaching Year A).
“A counterlife with God”—what would that look like?
The Good News headline for today is in the words of Debra Joseph: “LET GOD DO WHAT GOD WANTS TO DO WITH and THROUGH US.”
I offer these thoughts for you to ponder. In the greatest of HOPE!!