Moses in a Basket

“Moses in a Basket”

Exod 2 Pharaoh's daughter and Moses in the Dura-Europos synagogue fresco, c. AD 244

Exodus 1:15-2:6 – July 7, 2019

On social media, one sure way to get loads of “likes” and “shares” is to post the photo of a cute baby. So many people love seeing photos of little babies looking adorable. And when photos of crying or unhappy babies are posted, many people pour out their sad, shocked, and comforting emotions in their responses online.

Is it much different in our Scripture reading today from Exodus? As we hear about the infants born to the Israelite women in Egypt so long ago, I suspect many in our congregation are sad and shocked, and wish to comfort those women and families involved.

And yet—this narrative about infants from Exodus has a much starker, darker impact, as we read it over again in the clear light of day. With the typical economy of words that Hebrew often employs, our narrative opens with: “Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.” In other words, a number of generations had passed, and as commentator Karla Suomala suggests “the new king didn’t remember Joseph’s role in keeping the Egyptians alive during a time of famine or simply chose to ignore this piece of history. It seems to be more willful than a simple act of forgetting.” [1]

The people of Israel, resident aliens living in Egypt for several hundred years, have become extremely numerous. So numerous, in fact, that the new Pharaoh and other racist Egyptian leaders feared the people of Israel would be guilty of insurrection or an alliance with a foreign nation. The Egyptians ruthlessly worked them even harder, but they continued to multiply and grow as a sub-people group within the nation.

I give a trigger warning, since this sermon is going to speak of some horrible events.

Further compounding [Pharaoh’s] false statement, is a clear strategy to create an “enemy within” and to stir up fear of the foreign or immigrant other. The Pharaoh then wastes no time in putting a plan together to deal with this dangerous element in their midst.” [2] Pharaoh and the other leaders became so fearful and anxious that they come up with a nefarious scheme—killing all the Jewish boy babies, from that point onward.

We take a side trip to consider women in healthcare, specifically working as midwives. This work as midwives outside the home has been an accepted thing for certain women to do for millenia. The two women we look at come at the beginning of Exodus, in the middle of this narrative about the Israelite—or, Hebrew boy children.

These women were diligent in their work. We even know the names of these midwives—Shiprah and Puah. The biblical writer honors them by recording their names for posterity. Plus, they were God-fearing women, who understood their work was important in God’s eyes.

As we know, Pharaoh’s evil plan was to command the Hebrew midwives to kill all baby boys, to commit male infanticide, yet allow the baby girls to live. This is a slow yet sure way of eradicating Egypt’s problem population. What do we think about such horrendous acts of cruelty? No, even worse, acts of murder? What would you consider doing, if you had been in the place of these Hebrew midwives?

The midwives Shiprah and Pual were civil servants; they worked for the Egyptian government, and so the all-powerful Pharaoh was their ultimate boss. However, Pharaoh and his cronies did not have much power. Pharaoh needed to meet with the Israelite midwives in a huge turnover in power. Imagine, we are faced with the question: where—with whom—does true power reside?

Apparently, Pharaoh is not aware of this power differential. What is more, Pharaoh tries to deputize these Hebrew midwives to do his dirty work for him. He does not want to get his hands (or the hands of his fellow Egyptian leaders) bloody.

The midwives are honorable and God-fearing, and most probably cannot even consider killing the newborn infants they assist bringing into the world. However, when Pharaoh asks them why they are not killing the baby boys, “the midwives respond by playing to his own stereotypes about immigrants and their breeding habits. “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them,” they say.” [3]

Here we see that racist stereotypes are sadly perpetuated from generation to generation. Has this frightening, common, xenophobic mindset changed today? I think not.

The Pharaoh clearly sees that he won’t be able to convince the Israelites to kill their own children. So, he and other racist, xenophobic Egyptian leaders turn to the Egyptian population, telling them to throw the Jewish baby boys into the Nile River. This is where we pick up with the story of Moses. His mother gave birth to Moses in secret, hid him for three months, and then finally did put him in the Nile River—in a floating, waterproof basket.

We follow Miriam, Moses’s older sister, watching from the riverbank, as Pharaoh’s daughter finds the floating basket. Pharaoh’s daughter is charmed with the darling baby who she correctly identifies as a Jewish baby, spies Miriam nearby, and asks whether Miriam can find a wet nurse for this baby she decides on the spot to adopt. Thus, the adopted Moses is suckled by his own mom—and even paid to nurse her own child. Such are the amazing incidents that happen in God’s providence.

One fascinating insight about the male Pharaoh and the female midwives: one of the most striking points of this section is the fact that the text names the midwives. Why do we need to know the names of these two women, Shiphrah and Puah, who never appear again in the story? Names are very important in the Book of Exodus. Moses’s sister Miriam is named, too, further on in the book.

Who remains nameless? Pharaoh. Pharaoh is unnamed. Pharaoh’s royal family members are unnamed. Pharaoh’s officers are unnamed. Pharaoh’s royal advisors are unnamed. Every Egyptian in the book of Exodus remains nameless. All public figures in Egypt take great efforts at self-promotion and control. [4] But when God steps in and raises up the women in this story, we need to sit up and take notice.

A final act of defiance to the Pharaoh’s authority and will comes from his own daughter. Moses will grow up under the protection of the princess even before he is officially adopted. [5] Sure, we can see the patriarchal mindset and attitude shown in the Bible remains deeply entrenched, through the centuries. However, in God’s providence and outworking in these connected situations, we can see defiance and subversion of Pharaohs’ commands, even from within his own house at the hands of his own daughter.

God be praised. Yes, there is continuing horror, despair, death and destruction. But, God’s purposes shine through all the darkness. Moses rose to prominence, to lead his people out of Egypt. And, God’s purposes continue to shine through.

That is something to truly celebrate. Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

This entry was tagged angry, arrogant, coat of many colors, dysfunctional, favorite, Genesis 37, God’s purposes, hurt feelings, Joseph, praise God, reconcile, sibling rivalry.

 

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3380

Commentary, Karla Suomala, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2017.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3380

Commentary, Karla Suomala, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2017.

[4] https://juniaproject.com/midwives-vs-pharaoh-exodus-question-of-power/

[5] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=972

Commentary, Exodus 1:8-2:10, Amy Merrill Willis, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

A Great Multitude

“A Great Multitude”

Rev 7 multitude white-robes

Revelation 7:9-17 – April 17, 2016

This past Friday, April 15, 2016, I convened a Peace Breakfast at Kappy’s Restaurant, here in Morton Grove. We had a diverse group assembled! Not quite as diverse as this great multitude that John talked about in Revelation 7, but still, diverse. Culturally, ethnically, and religiously different from one another.

Let’s step back, and think about the book of Revelation. This is not your typical bible passage to read on a Sunday morning. Not your usual sermon text, either. The book of Revelation is a series of interconnected visions alerting believers to the last days of the church.

Chapter 7 comes towards the beginning of John’s visions.

I’d like everyone to think of an old-fashioned radio or television serial, in multiple parts, or episodes. Here we have yet another fantastic episode of this amazing book.

For centuries, many preachers, teachers, and bible interpreters have read Revelation, and completely pick it apart. Find all types of supposed references to actual people, places and things. Use it as a guidebook for the End Times. It sounds like the political hype we lament but can’t quite seem to escape. (Let me say—bible interpreters have been “identifying” people, places and things in Revelation for centuries. Different anti-Christs, different identifications for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and all the rest—every century, every era, every place.)

If John wrote this book to bring hope to his readers, how in the world can this passage of Revelation provide a different, more life-giving vision to us, today?

Our bible passage today opens with a great multitude. It’s like John has a huge video screen in front of him. He’s watching this fantastic vision play out in front of him.

I encourage you all to get into the spirit of this passage. Shut your eyes, and imagine yourself seated in a heavenly theater (an iMax theater, if that helps you). John is seated right next to you, and suddenly, you see a great multitude on this massive screen in front of you. Every racial group, every ethnicity, every language spoken. All of them! All the things, as the young people say today.

Yes, in the larger picture, all of these people in the great multitude are going to go through a time of great trial. However—I would like to focus on this multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual multitude of people.

We are all aware of other separations and designations for groups of people. Upper class, working class. City folk, country folk, North side, South side. With all of this fantastic stuff going on in the book of Revelation, on that huge theater screen in front of us, who has time to think about these divisions? Who would be concerned—in heaven? Standing before the throne of God Almighty, in the full sight of God.

Yet—here in this world, here in the United States, in the Chicago area, those things do matter. As a pastor, I talk to a number of people many times in a week. Some of these people share about their fears and hopes for the future. More and more, I notice a shift in the mindsets of people—a shift towards deeper feelings of uncertainty and general anxiety.

I am distressed and dismayed at the overt anger, undisguised racism, and blatant xenophobia that is increasingly happening in this country. The shouting, yelling, name-calling, and general mud-slinging in this political primary process, just for an example. Note: I am not taking sides, but I am truly dismayed by the marked increase in such attitudes due to people’s ethnicity, culture, or religion. That is what I see as a big problem today.

Perhaps I am an idealist, but I would like to believe that we as a nation are truly a melting pot. This country is one of the most like this image, this part of the vision that John saw. That is such a strength of the United States! Yay! Go, us!!

We are going to switch gears. Let us look at the beginnings of the church.

In Acts, shortly after the day of Pentecost, a disagreement came up in the church. As Rev. Findlayson mentions, “The Jewish world was divided between Aramaic-speaking Jews from Palestine [Hebrews—home grown], and Greek-speaking Jews from the dispersion [or Hellenists—who had grown up outside Palestine]. Racial tension, often focused on religious purity, existed in the wider Jewish community and found its way into the New Testament church. [The tension] revealed itself in a dispute over the care of widows. The [Greek-speaking Jews] claimed that their widows were not getting a fair share of the church’s welfare budget.”

Do you hear the problem? Two separate groups of people in the early Church—all Jews, and one group—a minority group, no less—claimed they were being overlooked. Discriminated against. Now, multiply that 100 times. No, 1000 times. And, you begin to see the problems we all have today with rampant, widespread hatred, racism, fear, and xenophobia.

I guess I was one of those people who wanted to believe that we as a country and maybe even as a human race were becoming more open, integrated, and generous. I wanted to believe that humans were moving past this kind of hatred, fear, and violence. I thought we were on the way towards making it as difficult as possible for anyone to intimidate or harm others simply because they are of a certain religion, or racial background, or culture.

What can conquer such deep set feelings?

John 3:16 is a wonderful verse. So much promise, so much love, so much grace. And—so much power!

Let us consider John 3:16. I suspect many of you can say it with me. We are just going to quote the beginning of the verse: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” I wondered: let’s unpack this verse. God loves? With a God-sized love. We all agree. God gave His Son—God’s ultimate Gift. Again, we all agree.  

The last phrase of this sentence? God so loved—the world.

Who is not part of the world that God loved? Let us consider racist feelings. Does God love the racist person? Yes. How about the person who is racially profiled? Yes.

Let’s consider xenophobic fears. Does God love the person who is so afraid of people who look different from them, or speak another language, or come from another part of the world? Yes, God does. God loves everyone. No matter what.

That is the hope we can gather from this passage in Revelation 7 today. God loves you. God loves me. Even though we may be flawed, and make mistakes, and do or say bad things. God still loves us.

The Peace Breakfast was a beginning, a chance to continue the conversation. We all live and work together, in community. Let’s promote positivity and friendship, not distrust and alienation. Here, in Niles and Morton Grove—and in Des Plaines, Glenview, Skokie—all over the Chicago area—we have such a multitude of diverse people! And it’s an opportunity to shine forth as a light of the Gospel, right here on this corner of Shermer and Harlem.

Finally, we can all praise God along with the great multitude from Revelation, and say, “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)