Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 4, 2011

2011.09.04 “What Will You Do This Week That Will Change the World?” – Exodus 1: 8 – 2:10

CENTRAL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
“What Will You Do This Week That Will Change the World?”
Pastor David L. Haley
Exodus 1: 8 – 2:10
September 4th, 2011

“A man from the family of Levi married a Levite woman. The woman became pregnant and had a son. She saw there was something special about him and hid him. She hid him for three months. When she couldn’t hide him any longer she got a little basket-boat made of papyrus, waterproofed it with tar and pitch, and placed the child in it. Then she set it afloat in the reeds at the edge of the Nile.
The baby’s older sister found herself a vantage point a little way off and watched to see what would happen to him. Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the Nile to bathe; her maidens strolled on the bank. She saw the basket-boat floating in the reeds and sent her maid to get it. She opened it and saw the child — a baby crying! Her heart went out to him. She said, “This must be one of the Hebrew babies.”
Then his sister was before her: “Do you want me to go and get a nursing mother from the Hebrews so she can nurse the baby for you?”
Pharaoh’s daughter said, “Yes. Go.” The girl went and called the child’s mother.
Pharaoh’s daughter told her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me. I’ll pay you.” The woman took the child and nursed him.
After the child was weaned, she presented him to Pharaoh’s daughter who adopted him as her son. She named him Moses (Pulled-Out), saying, “I pulled him out of the water.”
– Exodus 2: 1 – 10, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

Wouldn’t want to put any pressure on you or anything, but just want you to know this: what you do this week could change the world.

That’s the message of our text today, from the 1st and 2nd chapters of the Book of Exodus, the second book in the Bible. It’s about three women named Shiprah, Puah, and Jochebed, who made decisions, took a chance, and by their actions, changed the world. Here’s how it happened.

Over this summer’s Sundays, we’ve followed the ups and downs of God’s promise to Abraham in the book of Genesis, of a land and a people through whom God would bless the world. For the most part, it has been a familiar story, for many of us a little too familiar. For like our families, we discovered that the families of the patriarchs and matriarchs were often polygamous and dysfunctional, practicing a parental favoritism which often lead to fierce sibling rivalry. Frankly, most of us know better than that.
The story finally winds up with the story of the Wonder-Child Joseph, not only of the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat but also the Joseph Touch, the ability to rise up out of whatever pit life throws us into. Joseph not only saves Egypt, but his family and his people, who come to Egypt seeking food, and under Joseph’s patronage, stay.
But as we also learned, while “In our downfall lies our blessings,” sometimes also, “In our blessings lies our downfall.” And that’s what happened to Joseph’s people, as the next book of the Bible, Exodus, opens. “A new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph.”

Up to now the rulers of Egypt knew who Joseph was, and what he had done for Egypt, thus treating Joseph’s people as favored immigrants.

But that ended abruptly one day when this new king, perhaps wishing to solidify his political base, identified them as a threat and an enemy, a scapegoat to blame for the problems facing them. It was the end of an era, as surely as 9/11 was the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one.

Sadly, no matter era we live in, we’ve seen this movie before. In the thirties and forties, in Europe, it was the Jews. In the fifties, under Joseph McCarthy, it was the commies. More recently it’s been, by turns, illegal immigrants, welfare moms, gays, the “undeserving” poor, and of late, Muslims. Eventually, when the rhetoric goes too far, things get nasty.

And that’s what happened in Exodus. First Pharaoh enslaves the Hebrews, building bricks. Those pyramids you see when you go to Egypt, they’re impressive, but think also of the slaves who built them. Pharaoh then turns to genocide, instructing Hebrew midwives, to kill all Hebrew baby boys that are delivered.

If you had been a Hebrew midwife, what would you do? Would you say, “No way, Pharaoh!” as they did, although kindly and in a nicer way? Two of them, named Shiprah and Puah thumbed their nose at Pharaoh, sparing the baby boys, and saying, “Well, you know, these women are animals, the babies pop out before we even get there.” “What can we do?”

Next Pharaoh issues a command to kill all the baby boys. Mothers, how would that have set with you? Would you have said, like one mother named Jochebed, said, “No way Pharaoh!” Seeing – as most mothers see – that her son was ki tov, good and beautiful and special, she builds a basket-boat for her infant son, so that even as she casts him into the river, he will survive. By the way, the word she uses of her son is the same word God spoke about creation: it was ki tov, good and beautiful and special. And by the way, the boat that she built for her son was the same thing that Noah built, a tevah, an ark or basket-boat, to bear him through the flood. Never discount the love or resourcefulness of a mother, which is timeless and universal.

For example, almost everyone knows about China’s One Family/One Child Policy, which has led to hundreds of thousands of Chinese children, mostly girls, being adopted by foreigners, of which I am one. I used to wonder how any father or mother could abandon their children. Now, being an adoptive parent myself, and having been to China, I understand better the adverse situation families faced under China’s policy. Most did it reluctantly, as lovingly as they could under the circumstances, placing their children someplace they would be found, as on the doorstep of a home or orphanage, perhaps watching from a distance until their child was safely rescued, entrusting them to be raised by another. Never discount the love or resourcefulness of a mother.

Which seems to be exactly what Pharaoh did. Thinking that it’s males who are the threat, ironically it is the women – apparently of no account to Pharaoh – that he should have feared: Shiprah and Puah, Jochebed, Moses’ mother, and Miriam his sister, finally even his own daughter. It is these women who turn out to be Pharaoh’s undoing.

And the ironies do not end there. The very things Pharaoh fears and seeks to avoid, happen, as a result of his own efforts. He seeks to be shrewd and wise, these women show him to be a fool. His desire to kill the boys spurs the women to action. His attempts to control the Hebrew population leads to its exponential increase. His plan to keep the Hebrews from escaping, moves God to commission Moses to deliver them.

And, in fact, there is a frightening irony inherent in history, such that sometimes our best efforts do achieve the exact opposite. For example, consider as we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11. While our initial response was to come together as a nation like we have rarely seen, 10 years later we are perhaps more divided and polarized than ever. In an effort to protect our freedoms, we have lost more of them. To avenge the 3,000 who died that day, we have engaged in two wars since, killing twice as many of our sons and daughters in addition to tens of thousands of innocent people, almost bankrupting our country in the process, probably exacting a greater toll upon us than Bin Laden ever dreamed in his wildest dreams. And, the question remains, after all this, whether we are safer or less safe, whether in the process we have created more enemies than we have killed.

Where is God in all this, and who will deliver us? Well, one of the things I like about the workings of God throughout the book of Genesis and these first chapters of Exodus, is that there are no overt acts of God recorded. Instead the story unfolds and the situation is resolved through the courageous and compassionate actions of families and people, working with God

Here, it was a courageous act of civil disobedience by these Hebrew women that was to change history. In our time, it would be like Rosa Park’s refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus that would lead to the desegregation of Montgomery, and give rise to a young black preacher named Martin Luther King, Jr. I doubt very much whether either Shiprah or Puah or Jochebed or Rosa Parks thought they were changing the world. But they were, just by being faithful, by following the dictates of their hearts, by heeding the call of conscience.

Andy Andrews wrote a book called The Butterfly Effect in which he catalogues the extraordinary impact of simple and courageous efforts. Except when you go back, you can never really tell which efforts made the biggest difference. So, for instance, should Norman Borlaug, who developed high yield, disease resistant corn and wheat be credited with saving two billion lives from famine, or should Henry Wallace, the one-term U.S. Vice-President, who created an office in New Mexico to develop hybrid seed for arid climates and hired Borlaug to run it? Or should we credit George Washington Carver, who took a young Henry Wallace for long walks and instilled in him his love of plants? Or should it be Moses and Susan Carver, who adopted the orphaned George as their son? You get the idea. Andrews points out how inter-connected our actions are, creating an unforeseen butterfly effect that can ripple across time and space to affect the lives of millions. Who knows what act that will be, and whether it might be us who will commits it? (David Lose, “The Butterfly Effect,” Working Preacher, 8/14/2011)

Maybe it’s a school teacher who will give encouragement to a student, who will then see something in herself that she hadn’t seen before, and in turn befriend another student on the verge of giving up on life.

Maybe it’s a teenager who will stand up to the neighborhood bully, and not only help the kids being bullied, but also the bully, who never had anyone care enough to stand up to him before. What if, in turn he should go on to become a police officer who protects the vulnerable?

Maybe it’s a volunteer who read to kids at the library, and what if one of those kids discovers a passion for language and someday grow up to be a poet laureate.

Maybe it’s a mother, or a father, who sees something special in their child (ki tov) and will move heaven and earth to realize it, even should it mean entrusting their child to another, in order that they might have a better life. You never know, just what it will be, that will change the world.

A man named Sam was asked by a neighbor to drive her son to a hospital. Although he had other things planned, Sam didn’t know how to say no. So he put the child in the car and started the 50-mile journey. Suddenly the boy turned to Sam and shyly asked, “Are you God?” Startled, Sam said, “No. I don’t even believe in God.” The boy continued, “I heard Mom asking God for some way to get me to a doctor. If you’re not God, do you work for him?” Sam replied, “I guess so, even though I didn’t know it. And now that you ask, I’ll be doing a lot more of it.”

Who knew this ancient story from Exodus could still echo so powerfully in our lives, our congregation, our nation, and the world: raising issues of race and religion and politics, gender and power, the war on terror, debates over immigration policy, the inequities of our global economy, congregational mission and hospitality to the stranger, in short all manner of suffering and bondage that still threaten us and families and people.

And perhaps most audaciously of all, asks us to be the ones to do something about it. Yes, what we do this week, could change the world. Because you never know . . .

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