Sermons

Rescue; Rev. Dee Ledger, August 23, 2020

The first thing that you might notice about today’s scripture passage is that there are a whole lot of women involved.  The story is about the birth of Moses, the rescue of Moses from a tyrant who did not know or remember the Hebrew hero, Joseph, and right away, we know that something is amiss.  This new Pharaoh had clearly forgotten the way the ancestor of the Israelites had helped Egypt in a very difficult time of famine, a difficult time that the nation might not have survived had Joseph not been able to read Pharaoh’s dreams and have the depth of foresight to get Pharaoh, at that time, to plan ahead with storing grain and such.

So there arose a new Pharaoh who did not, would not, learn his history well, listen to the people of neighboring lands, and that is a clue, if any, that the women are about to get involved.  Because women often remind men of their history, their own forgotten herstory, and of the preciousness of life—and death.   In the process, better decisions are often made because ½ of the human race is not sidelined, ignored, or diminished.  But too often women are oppressed, mocked, or made to watch the death of their children.  In this case, a cruel, despotic Pharaoh has decided that the birth of any little Hebrew boys is a threat to his power and issues an edict that the Hebrew baby boys shall be killed.

This is the context of the birth of Moses—a mad king who decides that male, minority children should not exist.  It reminds me of Trevor Noah’s book, Born a Crime, (2016), which describes how his own birth was literally illegal in South Africa.  Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by several years in prison. Those in power decided that his parents’ relationship was a threat and therefore, his existence was not only condemned but illegal—a crime.  Consequently, his mother went to extremes to hide his existence from the authorities when he was a little boy, pretending at times that they were not together when in public.  And thank God, that Trevor Noah, from the influence of his mother, is still here to share his story.

In our story, the Hebrew midwives decide not to follow the edict of the tyrant.  And so we have an example of civil disobedience that saves lives.  The midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, instead devise a plan to circumvent the mad king by allowing the boys to live and using his racist agenda against him by saying that it is because the Hebrew women are so vigorous and strong that the boys are born far before the midwives get there. This makes the king even angrier and he decrees that the little Hebrew boys be thrown into the river.

What is rescue?  I often think of this when I see people pinning their hopes on various human saviors that we see in the news or in the public arena.  “Who will fix this mess?”  we ask, and then we proceed to take ourselves out of the equation as we willingly lift others to the forefront.  But we sometimes forget our history: that even Jesus did not work alone.  His saving power comes also from those who believe in the kin-dom for which he lived and died and who accompany him, help to carry the burdens, and carry on the work after he is gone.  The church would not exist if it relied only on a dead savior.  Part of a living savior is the part that lives in you and in me.  Too often we expect and demand our human saviors to effect the work that we should be laboring to effect ourselves.

Moses mom places her little boy in a special basket that will allow him to float and places him where he will likely be discovered and saved.  Her prayers, her desperation, and her dreams are all mixed into the bitumen and pitch that she carefully uses to cover the basket.  Effecting the rescue, another woman, Pharaoh’s daughter discovers the basket, the baby, and her heart is moved to compassion.  Moses sister strategically stands by watching and cunningly suggests a Hebrew wet nurse who just so happens to be the child’s own mother.  In this way, the midwives, Moses mother, Pharaoh’s daughter, and Moses’ sister together effect the saving will of God.  Not simply one person, but several working at risk of discovery, as well as an enemy’s daughter who is moved to shelter and help the infant Moses.

What does rescue mean for us?  The other day, I was asked if I had done an intervention—you know, the kind that is sometimes done to help an addicted person choose to enter recovery.  I have not.  My experience with interventions of this sort has been limited and those that I have known–that have been attempted, with the best of intentions– have often turned out disappointing, violent, or worse, if the one who is addicted feels betrayed or manipulated.  Some people do not want to be rescued; they do not want a savior who is related or intimately connected to them, and they often need to make the conscious and hard decision that their health and recovery is necessary and primary.

But there is a time for intervention and for a rescue that involves all of us working together.  When our collective well-being is at stake, when danger lurks at every corner, when a better world is within our reach, when we are willing to collectively make the kinds of sacrifices and risks needed to effect change, and when we thoughtfully consider the ideas, experiences, and blessings of all genders, races, and people, we have a better chance of intervening and upsetting the plans of dangerous foes and cruel rulers.  We may be tempted to pin our hopes on a human savior to rescue us, but this is folly if we are not willing to do our part with each other as well,  and even the offspring of the enemy who may still be moved to compassion.

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve had several weeds invade the mulch in the front of our house.  It has been a real mess.  Despite what our gospel says about the dangers of pulling weeds, I had hopes that my kids would help with the pulling to earn a little extra money or maybe even the landscaper that helps with the lawn.  But while I waited, the weeds grew bigger, stronger, and blocked the light to the shrubs.  One of my kids decided to help, but quickly abandoned the task, when the work became more difficult than he initially bargained for.

It seemed that if the shrubbery was going to be freed from the weeds that were choking off growth, then I was going to have to push up my sleeves and put in some sweat too.  Too often we say that our children will save the world with their energy and imagination and forget that we need our elders to help us stay the task when the going gets rough.  We need each other, now more than ever, to help the human race find its way down this river that we share.  We need each other to lean upon, to dream with, to clear away the debris and to plan for a future that is in its infancy but is ever unfolding.  We need each other to be a necessary part of the Savior that we seek, a basket of kindness, of justice, of mercy, and of measured risk to meet the demands of this time.

Trevor Noah’s mother had a baby, in part, to register her resistance to an unjust racial system.  Like Moses mother, she found others who were supportive of her vision of a more just and equitable world, even in midst of violence and soul-wrenching drama.  In an interview with NPR’s Terri Gross, Trevor Noah says this about his mother, to whom he dedicates both his book and his becoming formed into a man.  He says,

“My mother’s always looking for answers, she’s always searching for new information. I think she has a thirst or hunger that very few possess innately, so my mother never stagnated in a place where she said, ‘I have it all.’ … She applied this to everything in our lives, and that was not staying in the space that you are supposed to be in, whether it be racially, whether it be in a community, whether it be gender norms, whatever it was” [1]

 

To whom will you lend your help and encouragement at this time?  With what  women will you partner to effect a more sustainable vision of our world?  Who will you suggest to nurse God’s world as it can and should be?  What risk will you take to defy the evil that you abhor?  What risk will you take to help shelter love’s message and help it to be discovered in the currents of life?

May God lead you—and all of us– forward in peace.