“Courageous Hope…Courageous Faith” – September 29, 2019
Pr. Janine Goodrich
So you remember, the promise was made to Sarah and Abraham that their descendents would be a great multitude. And indeed their grandson, Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, was the father of 12 sons…all of whom moved to Egypt with their families during a terrible famine. They stayed there in Egypt for a few hundred years. That’s a long time, my friends. And during that time .those families indeed grew into a great multitude. The Israelites, the descendants of Jacob, actually grew to outnumber than the Egyptians themselves.
And, in the face of this large immigrant population, this is how the Pharaoh thinks…’these people do not belong here. They are not part of “us”…and there are so many of them, if they rose up against us, they would defeat us…so we must protect ourselves.’ So, the Pharaoh and his people enslaved the Israelites – took away their freedom, beat them, and worked them to the bone. Which is exactly what people in power do, when they get afraid…when they fear their position as “top dog” is threatened. They come down with an iron fist, to cruelly and brutally put others in their place.
And ultimately…the Pharaoh’s brutality expanded to a include plan to kill every baby boy..not the baby girls…just the boys…because, of course, Pharaoh cannot imagine the women are a threat to his power.
And here’s where the story gets a fun twist. Pharoah does not believe women are a threat to his power…yet it is the women who truly orchestrate his undoing. Women who do what is right, even when it is against the law…even when it is “wrong”.
It begins with the midwives. Shiphrah and Puah. Ordered by Pharaoh to kill the baby boys… they practice civil disobedience. They refuse to comply with his demands…and when questioned…they lie. Flat out lie. And also begin to rattle Pharaoh’s cage…saying, “Hebrew women, you see, are not frail like Egyptian women…they are vigorous and strong. You imagine them weak…but they are not.”…basically, they’re saying “Be afraid…be very afraid.” The midwives disobeyed Pharaoh’s laws. And…it is interesting to note…that God approved of their disobedience…God approved of their lies…for these women had protected the innocent from those who were driven by hate and fear.
Pharaoh bypasses the midwives then…and orders every Egyptian (notice it is NOT just soldiers…but EVERY Egyptian) to throw the baby boys in the Nile. And another woman arises to foil his plan….Jochabed. Jochabed…the mother of Moses…who hides her baby boy as long as she can…and then throws him in the Nile, as the Pharaoh has ordered…but her disobedience takes the form of a flimsy floating basket of papyrus…holding her baby boy along the banks of the river…hoping against hope that somehow he will survive.
And then another woman joins the story…and here is the clincher…it is the Pharaoh’s own daughter. She has her servant fish the basket out of the water…and sees clearly that it surely must be one of the Hebrew baby boys…and looking at the baby, just like we all look at babies…she just loved him….she defies her father and rescues him. Claims him as her own. She is the one who names him “Moses”…the one taken out of the water. Don’t you wonder what her father thought…he, the one who ordered him IN the water? She refuses to be sucked in to her father’s paranoia and violence.
And then finally….(I told you this was a story of women)…it is Moses’ sister…Miriam..who approaches Pharaoh’s daughter and offers to find a “Hebrew nursemaid”…who is Moses’ own mother. In doing so, she returns Moses, literally, to the bosom of his mother. With money in her pocket, to boot.
Of course, the story goes on….Moses runs away from Egypt when he is caught defending a slave who is being beaten…he runs away, knowing that as he is an adult now, his mother can’t protect him any longer. And he builds a life in the desert with the Midianites. He finds a wife, becomes a shepherd. But God calls him back to Egypt…out of a burning bush…to stand up to the Pharaoh. To bring an end to his people’s slavery. Moses is reluctant…but he goes…with the help of his brother Aaron. An awesome task…but with courage — with hope and faith…Moses goes forward.
Now, some of us may have burning bush stories…stories of profound calls to be great leaders. But what I am struck by in this story the fact that none of it would have happened without the small acts of courageous disobedience of Shiphrah and Puah, Jochabed and Miriam, and Pharaoh’s own daughter.
In the face of evil…in the face of injustice and cruelty…in the face of hatred and corruption….I want to fix it. Now. I want someone to just come and order it all away. I want GOD to come and order it all away. But this story reminds me that each of us simply has to do our own part…and we each have a part…in our place in the story…and trust the arc of redemption belongs to God.
In our work and our daily lives…we can be like Shephrah and Puah — we can refuse to do what is blatantly evil. Even if we have to lie about it. I think of the folks who hid Jews in their attics and closets…but also, officials in various capacities who have falsified reports at times to protect people from those who sought to hurt them. I think of people who refuse to cover up wrongdoing in their workplaces. I think of people who defy laws to bring food and water to people who are hungry and thirsty…who seek to save people’s lives in foreign countries and along the deserts of our own borders. We can act courageously in the work and life we have been given to do what is right and in doing so, we are part of God’s redemption story.
And we can also be like Jochabed…hoping against hope…building a raft of reeds in the face of a nation that has gone mad with hatred. A nation that wants her own child dead. We can be like Jochabed….not giving up. Trying anything…no matter how small and pathetic it may seem… daring to believe in a future for our children. Not scoffing at the small acts of goodness and compassion in the world…but participating in them. Trusting that our small acts can be part of the story of God’s salvation. Whether its’ not using plastic bags and bottles…and reducing our carbon footprint to save the planet….or bringing food to the food bank and sending money to Lutheran World Relief and buying coats for kids. Whether it’s helping one person at work who is confused or bringing a meal to someone who is grieving or sick. We float our papyrus baskets into the Nile, for the sake of our children…for the sake of a better world…and we are part of God’s redemption story.
Or we can be like Pharoah’s daughter….we can stand up to those closest to us. This is sometimes the hardest thing to do. When our friends and family get sucked in to fear and hate… we can choose to love. We can choose to see beautiful children…our own children…instead of a “Hebrew” baby…a threat. We can choose a different path. Claiming outsiders as our own. I think of the student who crosses the room to stand with the person who is being bullied. I think of the police officer who defends a black woman being harassed by other officers….and I think of the black woman who protects a police officer down on the ground from angry black protestors. When we cross the room…when we defy our “group” to care for those who are being hurt….we, like Pharaoh’s daughter…are a part of God’s redemption story.
And finally, we can be like Miriam…who basically uses the system to make things work out the way they should. The system of slaves raising Egyptian babies was in place…slaves who would nurse and care for the little ones. So Miriam uses it to bring Moses home…to help her family. To save her brother. Sometimes…we have to work the system. The system may be lousy. It may be corrupt. But sometimes what we do…is use it to the best of our ability to bring something right into being. The medical system. The legal system. The government system. The social services system. They are all deeply flawed at best….but like Miriam…we can use them to help a homeless teenager, a family dealing with disabilities, an out of work parent, a drug addict, a former prisoner, a mentally ill child, a family fleeing violence. I think of social workers, advocates, who help families and individuals find programs and resources. I think of Myrna Coan, who walked with so many people through their disability paperwork. I think of folks at our shelters and food banks and foster agencies…at mental health centers and recovery centers…at Rural Resources and Family Crisis and YES and Pend Oreille River School and Lutheran Social Services and the Village at Orchard Ridge ….who use government programs and medical systems and laws to literally save people’s lives. There are so many Miriams who are part of God’s redemption story in this world.
Usually, we speak of this story as Moses’ story…he of the burning bush. But most of us will not be called to lead nations and transform political systems like Moses did. So we need to remember this is also the story of Shiphrah and Puah, Jochabed and Miriam, and Pharaoh’s daughter. The ones who nobody saw as a threat…but whose unseen actions were an integral part of God’s story of salvation. I think that’s true for you and I…in our everyday lives. What we do may not seem like much…but our acts of courageous hope…courageous faith…truly are an integral part of God’s story of salvation. Here’s the thing. You matter. You may get discouraged….but what you do matters. For the difference you make for one person…is the way God brings new life to the world. Amen.